Opposition ‘ganja Bill’ thrown out; Gov’t Bill goes to special committee
By Kurt Campbell
An opposition sponsored Bill brought to the National Assembly by Member of Parliament (MP), Sherod Duncan to allow for persons carrying 500 grams of marijuana or less to be spared jail time, did not make its way past the first reading on Thursday, as the government pointed out several consequential errors in the bill which conflict with the current laws.
After close to four hours of debate on a motion to have the National Assembly entertain the Bill, which seeks to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, it all came down to a single vote where the government used its majority in the House to have it thrown out.
Tensions escalated as the two sides engaged in fiery exchanges on the sensibleness of the Bill, when placed in stark contrast to another Bill laid in the National Assembly by Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC.
Duncan’s Bill had proposed increasing the decriminalisation amount drastically from 15 grams to 500 grams; something the government questioned and said it could not support.
The government MPs all threw their support behind the Nandlall piloted Bill which he read for the first time on Thursday and asked that it be sent to a Special Select Committee for further consultation, even as he accused the opposition of failing to consult before bringing their Bill.
Nandlall said the opposition Bill has several consequential mistakes in that it failed to amend the principal law to make it more comprehensive and fluid.
“We don’t want anyone to feel that we are using our majority or numerical strength to vote down the Bill that comes from the opposition, but we are giving reasons why we are not supporting the Bill,” he said.
According to Nandlall, the opposition proposed to amend the Bill to allow for possession of 500 grams of marijuana to be legal but failed to amend it to allow for usage to be legal.
“So, you can have it, but you can’t smoke it or inhale it or vape it,” Nandlall pointed out.
Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, said the manner in which the Bill was drafted gives the government no other option but to withhold its support.
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.
The government Bill proposes counselling and community service for persons found with between 15 to 30 grams of marijuana, instead of mandatory jail time.
Duncan in wrapping up the debate accused the government of hijacking the APNU+AFC move to “free up the weed.”
“The PPP/C continues to steal APNU+AFC projects and initiatives,” he said while claiming that he PPP/C government had opportunities before now to bring its Bill.
He said the opposition had relied heavily on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) report from the regional commission on marijuana which had held widespread consultation in Guyana and across the region.