Gov’t, Opposition going ahead with separate marijuana Bills

-  One to legalise small amounts, another to remove jail time

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By Kurt Campbell

With Cabinet’s approval granted, the government is expected to soon table a Marijuana Bill in the National Assembly, but an Opposition sponsored Bill to decriminalise small amounts of marijuana has already made its way onto the Parliamentary Order Paper for a sitting set for Thursday, January 28, 2021.

On Friday, Attorney-General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, confirmed that a proposed bill, which seeks to remove custodial sentence (time in prison) for persons found with small quantities of marijuana, has found favour with Cabinet and approval has been granted for it to be tabled in Parliament.

Cabinet had to deliberate on the quantity of marijuana that will attract the removal of custodial sentencing, but even with the bill now final and approval granted, the AG has not said what the quantity is that was agreed to.

Under the government’s proposed legislation, marijuana possession will continue to constitute a criminal offence, but it will not allow for jail sentences as a penalty.

With next Thursday’s sitting set for private members business/opposition business and subsequent sittings likely to be occupied with the reading and debating of the 2021 national budget, Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira could not say when the government-sponsored bill would be tabled and read for the first time.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, S.C (Photo: News Room/December 18, 2020)

When contacted by the News Room, Teixeira also could not say whether the government would withdraw its bill, and in turn, support the opposition’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2020.

Teixeira raised concerns about the opposition’s proposal in the bill, which seeks to legalise the possession of up to 500 grams of marijuana; the current law criminalises the possession of 15 grams.

The opposition also wants the removal of the mandatory imprisonment of persons who found with small amounts of marijuana. For them, small amounts would be less than 500 grams, something that the government doesn’t seem to agree with.

She said even if the opposition-sponsored bill, tabled by Member of Parliament, Sherod Duncan goes through, it will have to go to a Special Select Committee of Parliament to be further reviewed before it is finally debated on the floor of the House for passage.

Teixeira said the next step for the government will be decided based on what happens next Thursday.

The opposition has argued that the current statutory provision that criminalises marijuana possession should be reviewed as many people are increasingly using marijuana for personal or medical reasons.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira

Both the governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the opposition A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition has promised reforms to the country’s narcotics law with specific emphasis on marijuana in the run-up to the March 2020 elections.

The coalition made promises as early as 2015 but never fulfilled it.

Even without a change in law, members of the judiciary have taken steps to offer alternative sentencing, where possible, to persons found with small amounts of marijuana, or as many call it “a spliff.”

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