Guyana should lead the charge in decriminalising marijuana
…once Caricom heads agree to recommendation – SMART memberA member of the Society of Marijuana Advocates for Reform and Treatment (SMART) is calling on Government to take the lead in decriminalising marijuana once the Caribbean Community (Caricom) Heads of Government agrees to recommendations made by the commission to this effect.SMART member Leon Saul told Guyana Times on Tuesday that he supports the recommendations made by the Commission on Marijuana to decriminalise the substance across Caricom Member States.However, he noted that for the most part, the coalition Government has been quite hesitant on the promises they have made with regards to decriminalise marijuana in Guyana.“I am thinking with the heads of Government agreeing to decimalising Guyana would finally take that forward movement, because a lot of promises were made and an entire jail has been burnt down in part by putting people in general in jail for a spiff or a small amount of marijuana,” he stated.Saul said Government has to put aside the age old tradition of resisting the decriminalisation of marijuana because the country may be left behind especially with respect to utilising the substance for various economic reasons. He said, “When the regulations are passed we will have more regulations as to who can and cannot smoke and it will bring some order to how it is being currently utilised,” he added.The Commission in its report argued that a strictly regulated framework for marijuana akin to that for alcohol and tobacco, should be introduced. There wasSMART member Leon Saulalso accord among members of the Commission who argued that children and young persons must be protected from possible adverse effects of cannabis.On the question of using marijuana and driving, the Commission agreed that drug-driving laws and mechanisms should be put in place to prevent persons from driving under the influence. At the same time, the report stated that the law must also ensure unhindered access to cannabis or marijuana for scientific and medical research by approved institutions and researchers. But the Commission recommends that marijuana smoking and other uses should be banned in all public spaces.The Regional Marijuana Commission was tasked to “conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean and to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for all types of usage (religious, recreational, medical and research).”Another SMART member, Nicole Cole, had told Guyana Times that Government is not serious about changing the laws, as there had been enough time to get things in order, but there is detected a clear reluctance. She said, “They’re playing Russian Roulette with the local Rastafari community.”Cole charged that the coalition had given its word that it would review the narcotics law. The Rastafarian community had tied the review of the law to its political votes when the coalition had promised to do so. She said the A Partnership for National Unity is currently pussy-footing and the Alliance For Change (AFC) has a motion before the National Assembly; but, she said, “Even that motion needs to be tweaked further to free Rastafari from Babylon chains!”For almost three years, the AFC has still not managed to find support from APNU to support the motion in the name of AFC parliamentarian Michael Carrington to move the first reading of the Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill. The motion to have the first reading of the Bill was tabled since December 10, 2015. The Bill itself has not been made public. The draft bill stipulates that persons who are found in possession of the drug for personal use would be required to pay a fine of $10,000, or perform community service for a period of time, something that is being widely supported to review local marijuana laws.Meanwhile, in Jamaica, while marijuana is illegal, possession of small amounts was reduced to a petty offence in 2015. The country has also established a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical cannabis industry on the island. Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises is also permitted in Jamaica, where the drug has long been culturally entrenched, although illegal.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has announced his support for custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana to be removed from the law books in their entirety, but maintained that he is not in favour of the legalisation of marijuana for commercial purposes.Jagdeo reminded that the People’s Progressive Party has made a commitment to support a ‘conscience vote’ should the matter come up for a vote in the National Assembly.