Govt criticizes Opposition’s “flawed” Ganja Bill

Attorney General Anil Nandlall

The National Assembly has scrapped an Opposition proposal to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act through an amendment bill that the Government described as inadequate.

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall SC punished the Opposition for its proposed bill, which, among other flaws, said it had no scientific data. Bills of such significant national importance must be fact-driven, says the AG.

“It’s not one study quoted, not one statistic provided … Simply put, your bill removes prison sentences from the offense up to a certain amount,” he said.

Bills affecting a significant part of society in the National Assembly cannot be brought and discussed as a private member’s bill through which it has been introduced, but the Government must bring it to the National Assembly.

The AG also said that some of the many flaws of the Opposition bill are that it misunderstands the difference between the removal of custodial sentences and decriminalization.

In policy terms, he said, the Opposition did another hairline where the bill would have removed the custodial sentences of all narcotics under the Act, rather than specifically targeting marijuana possession since it grouped the drug with all other narcotics.

In addition, the AG criticized the Opposition for its failure to address the possession of marijuana in several locations as outlined by the Act. These include but are not limited to school, public places, buildings, roads and highways.
AG Nandlall told the Opposition, “never read the Act in its entirety. [They] just changed one section and left all errors or consequential improvements that are supposed to be implemented to make the improvement comprehensive and relatable. ”

Upon further examination, he pointed out that the Opposition’s proposed amendment only addresses possession of marijuana and omits trafficking of the drug. According to this act, AG Nandlall said, narcotics trafficking would therefore be permissible.

“If you were to insert the amendment in its current form in the Principal Act, the Act would become inactive and defense counsel would have a field day because the whole scheme of legislation [would be] has gone. ”

The motion also fails to address the gross amount of marijuana it seeks to decriminalize.
The Opposition proposed removing penalties of 500 grams (1.1 lbs) of marijuana, which was quickly dismissed by the Attorney General. He referred to countries in the Caribbean that have suspended prison sentences for possession of no more than 57 grams of marijuana.

“Five hundred grams is madness. So, Mr Spokesman, out of necessity, we have to reject the motion brought to this House, ”said AG Nandlall.

Education Minister Priya Manickchand expressed a similar view in her refutation of the proposed bill.

He held that the Opposition “made no attempt to explore and question the issue they are trying to resolve for our fellow Guyanese.”

The Opposition Minister called for her hypocrisy in proposing an amendment as the Coalition had the opportunity to take the issue up front while in Government. He reminded the House that a Member of Parliament of the old administration had proposed a similar amendment back in 2015, but the then Government refused to take the issue in the National Assembly.

Minister Manickchand said the People / Civic Progressive Party has never flip-flopped on the issue and has remained consistent about its views on the issue.

Minister for Culture, Youth and Sport, Charles Ramson Jr., and Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn also voiced their objections to the measure during their presentations.

The Government’s own Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2021, at the request of AG Nandlall, was passed to the Senate Special Select Committee for consideration following the vote on the Opposition proposal.

That bill seeks to replace the custodial sentences, for having marijuana totaling 15 grams or less, with mandatory counseling, while more than 15 grams, but less than 30 grams, would attract service community.