The Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, on Wednesday introduced the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2021 to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The bill, which introduces amendments to seven key sections of the principal Act, was introduced for inclusion in the Parliamentary Order Paper for today’s National Assembly sitting. The main objective of the amendments is to remove prison sentences (time spent in prison) for possessing small quantities of marijuana, a pledge made by the Progressive People / Civic Party in their 2020 election manifesto.
The proposed amendments introduce mandatory counseling by a court-certified certified counselor for anyone convicted of possession of cannabis not exceeding 15 grams, the period of counseling to be determined by the counselor after assessment. For individuals found guilty of possession of a quantity of cannabis in excess of 15 grams but not exceeding 30 grams, the court must make an order requiring that person community service.
There is scope to change section five of the principal Act, which deals with the penalty for narcotic trafficking. Section two of the principal Act shifts the burden of proof on the defendant, once found to be in possession of more than 15 grams of cannabis, to prove that he possesses the narcotic for a purpose other than human trafficking. The amendment will see this changed to 30 grams. Other sections proposed for amendment are Sections 12, 72 and 73 of the principal Act.
Although the Coalition A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU + AFC) promised amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act as early as 2015, it never materialized. In 2015, former Alliance for Change (AFC) MP Michael Carrington had introduced a bill in the National Assembly to amend the Act but it had not even been discussed. In December 2020, opposition members of APNU + AFC submitted copies of their version of the revised bill to Parliament. They cited the National Assembly’s inactivity in 2019 because of passing the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018 as the reason why the bill was never discussed. The opposition-sponsored bill is also on the Parliamentary Order Paper for today’s National Assembly sitting. The Attorney General had previously revealed that the government’s view is that abolishing prison sentences for this type of crime will help reduce the prison population.