The following is a guest editorial. These are the views of the Author and not of the management of the News Room.
The new government should be congratulated for hitting the ground running with the keeping of their elections-promises, especially the Hon. Attorney General as regards the decriminalization of marijuana.
Thus, while smoking weed may not be among the things Guyanese would wish to encourage without caution, many were happy and relieved to read recently, that Cabinet had agreed in principle to remove custodial sentencing for marijuana. This is certainly a step in the right direction; Guyana law provides for a three-year minimum sentence for possession of marijuana, which by any modern standard is not only draconian but simply stupid.
But is the removal of custodial sentences enough? Our government would do well not to fall into the managerial abyss of the half-baked strategy.
One would imagine that, by now, government officials have had enough time to fully contemplate the findings of the Caricom Regional Commission on Marijuana, over two years ago, that it should be legalized.
Surely, the well-documented medicinal value of marijuana would have already been taken into consideration. We would have taken note of the 1.2 billion people worldwide, who suffer from a variety of illnesses that cannabis has been authoritatively shown to be of therapeutic value.
That almost the whole developed Free World has already taken steps towards the decriminalization of marijuana ought to have had some impact on our considerations.
Closer to home, Barbados wasted no time in approving medical marijuana in 2019, joining Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Vincent, and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis, who all decriminalized various forms of its usage and cultivation. Since 2017, you could smoke in private property, and possess up to 10 grams in Belize, which is among more than 40 countries worldwide that hold similar legal stances, as well as 15 states in the USA.
Certainly, the cost to society at large would have been considered, especially in contrast to and comparison with those of legal drinking. The tremendous burden to the judiciary, the police, and the citizenry brought about by the arrest, prosecution, defense, and implementation of the custodial (or non-custodial) sentencing, should, by now, have been concluded to be hopelessly wasteful, especially in the light of our overburdened judicial system.
As it currently stands in Guyana, marijuana growth, distribution, wholesale, and retail, are firmly in the hands of deadly narco-traffickers; people not afraid to bribe, kill, kidnap, maim, and extort, while our resource-outmatched police struggle to contain them.
Although Guyanese parents would not wish for their children to get stoned any more that they would wish for them to get drunk, it is irrefutable that they do not wish to see our nation’s otherwise brilliant and productive children getting jailed, fined, or dragged before the courts; or worse yet, dealing with these traffickers just because they were adventurous enough, like young Barack and Michelle Obama, to try it.
Neither would we wish to have our diabetics and cancer patients be arrested, or dealing with the criminal elements, just because in their desperation, they wished to try an alternative therapy?
Would we wish to arrest our tourists who could not for their wildest dreams imagine that Guyana, a member of the Caribbean community where Rastafarianism was born, could be so backward? Just imagine if 100,000 medical-marijuana tourists visited Guyana annually, and each spent US$2,000 on the visit. Yes, that would be US$200 million in tourism revenue; more than half of what we will likely earn in oil this year. Imagine the development of medical-marijuana therapy centers in Guyana.
Do we wish our Rastafarian community to be treated as criminals; to face endless arrests and fines in the envisioned non-custodial environment, simply because they wish to harmlessly practice their religion? Would we rather them deal with the narco-traffickers as against growing their own in peace?
Do we wish certain corrupt police to continue to have one more opportunity to ‘make a raise’?
The strategy must be based on a vision, a bold vision. The strategy is not based on doing the same things better; that is called Operational Efficiency. The strategy is based on doing things differently, very differently.
By now we would have digested the conclusive studies that show that it is better to regulate than to criminalize the use of marijuana (and other illegal substances). Barrack Obama himself has stated that marijuana should be treated like alcohol or cigarettes.
If we are serious about a strategic approach to the matter, we could take a page out of Canada’s book. Canada has boldly and strategically entered into the legal marijuana market that is estimated by authoritative sources to meet, by 2027, US$75 Billion, of a US$300 Billion global market.
Next door to Canada, much-admired-by-Guyanese, Kamla Harris, Vice-President Elect of the United States boldly supported democratic Senator Corey Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act aimed at removing marijuana entirely from the Controlled Substances Act, obliterating all marijuana-related convictions and barring federal funds from states that enforce cannabis law in a discriminatory way.
In the meantime, we in Guyana glorify our rum sales, while we lock away our children, mostly poor people, and Rastafarians for the use of a substance proven to be much less harmful than alcohol.
Let us make bold steps against the traffickers, all the corruption that surrounds the criminalization of marijuana. Let us stop burdening the judicial system. Trafficking depends on it being criminalized. Who would buy from these criminals what they could grow legally for their own recreational and medicinal purposes?
Come on government; let us stop wasting time and money with half-baked strategies. The only persons gaining from the criminalization of cannabis are the criminals. Let us lead, not follow.
Mr. President, for Christmas and from Christmas, pardon everyone incarcerated for marijuana.
Decriminalization means exactly what it says, not half-baked criminalization. Legalize it!