Manickchand flays opposition’s ganja bill as ‘lazy grandstanding’

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By Kurt Campbell

Moments after Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Sherod Duncan moved a motion on Thursday to have the National Assembly entertain a Bill that seeks to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, tensions escalated.

In fact, Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, said the manner in which the Bill was drafted – increasing the decriminalisation amount drastically from 15 grams to 500 grams – gives the government no other option but to withhold its support and instead support another Bill laid in the House by Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC.

Delivering the opening speech in a lineup of MPs to advance the government’s argument, Manickchand said the opposition proposed amendment to the principal Act was the epitome of “sanctimonious gangsterism”; she pointed out that ‘the Sherod Duncan piloted Bill’ was identical to another Bill drafted by attorneys Mark Waldron and Nigel Hughes.

The only difference is that the previous Bill asked for the removal of jail time for persons found with 200 grams of marijuana while this Bill increases that ceiling to 500 grams.

“It is a lazy attempt at a draft, there is absolutely no effort made to examine and interrogate the issue in trying to resolve it for Guyanese,” the Education Minister added.

Manickchand, in reminding of the previous Bill which was laid in the National Assembly by former government MP, Michael Carrington in 2016, said the APNU+AFC coalition was being duplicitous in its position on marijuana possession and associated jail sentencing.

“That Bill was in National Assembly from the beginning to end of APNU term, including the five months they stole from this country…two years after it was laid in the House, Joseph Harmon said that sentencing people for small amount of marijuana was a matter for the judiciary…Granger had said in 2017 that such reforms were not a current concern of the government, he declared that he would not subscribe to the usage of marijuana,” Manickchand told the House on Thursday.

She reminded that in 2017, Carrington had begged his MP colleagues in the then government to address the Bill even as the then Attorney-General, Basil Williams called for the matter to be put to a referendum.

The Education Minister reminded that the People’s Progressive Party, whether in government or opposition, has always been consistent on the issue in calling for the removal of jail time for persons found with small amounts of the substance.

The government Bill proposes counselling and community service for persons found with between 15 to 30 grams of marijuana, instead of mandatory jail time.

Manickchand said the Bill will be sent to a Special Select Committee of Parliament where the government intends to further consult on the issue.

“The Opposition will be on the Committee, the people who use and are found in possession will be invited to present their views; the lawyers who see their clients incarcerated will come and tell us and the Rastafarian community will also be able to make their presentation,” she added.

Nine speakers are slated to speak on opposition’s motion.

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