The National Assembly has struck down a motion by the Opposition to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act through an amendment bill that the Government described as inadequate.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall S.C., chastised the Opposition for its proposed bill, which it said lacked scientific data, among other deficiencies. Bills that are of such significant national importance must be guided by facts, the AG said.
“Not a single study quoted from, not a single statistic provided… Your bill is simply removing custodial sentences from the offence up to a certain amount,” he said.
Bills which affect a significant section of the society cannot be brought and debated in the National Assembly as a private member bill through which it was introduced, but must be brought to the National Assembly by the Government.
The AG also said some of the many deficiencies of the Opposition’s bill is that it misunderstands the difference between the removal of custodial sentences and decriminalisation.
With regard to policy, he said, the Opposition made another blunder whereby the bill would have removed the custodial sentences from all narcotics under the Act, rather than specifically targeting marijuana possession since it grouped the drug with all other narcotics.
Additionally, the AG criticised 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 spaces, premises, roads and highways.
AG Nandlall said the Opposition, “never read the Act as a whole. [They] just amended one section and left all the consequential mistakes or amendments that are supposed to be implemented to make the amendment comprehensive and fluid.”
After further examination, he pointed out that the Opposition’s proposed amendment only addresses the possession of marijuana and omits the trafficking of the drug. By this act, AG Nandlall said, trafficking of narcotics would therefore be permissible.
“Were you to insert the amendment in the current form into the Principal Act, the Act would become inoperable and defence counsel would have a field day because the whole scheme of the legislation [would be] gone.”
The motion also fails to address the gross amount of marijuana it seeks to decriminalise.
The Opposition proposed removing penalties from 500 grams (1.1 pounds) of marijuana, which was swiftly dismissed by the Attorney General. He cited countries within the Caribbean which have removed custodial sentences for possession of no more than 57 grams of marijuana.
“Five hundred grammes is insanity. So, Mr. Speaker, out of necessity, we have to reject the motion that is brought to this House,” AG Nandlall said.
Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand expressed similar views in her rebuttal of the proposed bill.
She maintained that the Opposition made, “no effort to attempt to examine and interrogate the issue that they are trying to resolve for our fellow Guyanese.”
The Minister called out the Opposition for its hypocrisy in proposing an amendment since the Coalition had a chance to frontally address the issue while it was in Government. She reminded the House that a Member of Parliament of the former administration had proposed a similar amendment back in 2015, but the then Government refused to take up the matter in the National Assembly.
Minister Manickchand said the People’s Progressive Party/Civic has never flip-flopped on the issue and has remained consistent regarding its views on the matter.
Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Charles Ramson Jr, and Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn also voiced their objections to the bill during their presentations.
Government’s own Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2021, upon the request of AG Nandlall, was transmitted to Parliament’s Special Select Committee for consideration following the vote on the Opposition’s motion.
That bill seeks to replace the custodial sentences, for possession of marijuana amounting to 15 grams or less, with mandatory counselling, while more than 15 grams, but less than 30 grams, would attract community service.