The Guyana Rastafari Council on Saturday assailed government’s rejection of a proposal to decriminalise the possession of marijuana rather than merely removing imprisonment as a penalty but Attorney General Anil Nandlall has already said that changes to the narcotics law are aimed at finding a “delicate balance” between competing interests.
Mr Nandlall said, at the bipartisan parliamentary select committee, there were no amendments to the government-sponsored bill to scrap custodial sentences for the possession of 30 grammes or less of marijuana but instead provides for community service. “Being in possession of 30 or less grammes of marijuana continues to be a criminal offence. What this Bill does is that it removes custodial sentence. Prior to this Bill persons would have been sentenced to no less than three years and no more than six years were that person to have been found in possession of 30 grammes of marijuana,” he said on the Department of Public Information’s programme, Parliamentary Agenda. When amended the Bill would provide for mandatory counselling for persons convicted of the possession of 1 to 15 grammes and community service for 15 to 30 grammes.
The Rastafari Council on Saturday said it planned to protest outside the Arthur Chung Conference Centre on Monday when the amendment to the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act is expected to be debated and passed by government’s one-seat majority in the National Assembly. “The Committee, chaired by the Attorney General Mr. Anil Nandlall, saw it fit to disregard all the submissions that called on them to at least decriminalize the use of cannabis, and made no changes to the Bill. So it remains as a Bill that seeks to further suck the life out of the poor and ordinary Guyanese by imposing a fine of GY$250,000 or US$1,300 for Rastafari and others who will definitely refuse to submit to counseling and community work for using cannabis in keeping with our spirituality,” the Council said.
The Attorney General, however, argued that Guyana is a complex society that requires a “delicate balance between competing interests.” “You can’t please all the people all of the time but at least you should try to please most of the people most of the time.” He said Guyana was divided into virtually two halves with the first half calling for the legalisation of marijuana and the other half urging an increase in the penalty. He indicated that another aim of the amendment to the law is to reduce the number of persons being incarcerated for the possession of marijuana. “It may not be pleasing to everybody but it is the best that we can do in the circumstances. Certainly, it is better than having our young men, in particular, and women being put in jail for three years to six years for a spliff,” the Attorney General said.
Mr Nandlall conceded that a segment of the Guyanese community’s religion involves the smoking of marijuana and “there is in the Constitution freedom of religion.” “The same way that I am a Hindu and I want to have my parsad and my seven curry, that marijuana is what is considered important as part of that religion,” he said.
Marijuana possession is legal in Canada, several American states and Caribbean countries.
Opponents of marijuana say that that herb damages the brain, destroys lives, destroys families, and that its highly addictive properties lead to vagrancy, destruction, violence and theft.
The Attorney General recalled that the then A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change administration had tabled a similar Bill in the National Assembly but had never debated and passed it.