Jagdeo supports decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana

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…Does not support legalizing of marijuana however

By Ramona Luthi

Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has pressed his support towards the call for the decriminalization of small quantities of marijuana in Guyana.

“We can’t continue to send somebody, a young person or even an older person to jail for less than a quarter ounce of marijuana. A quarter ounce of marijuana for three years when we have people who are traffickers and we have people that have produced or [are] growing large quantities of marijuana and because they have money they get off from the system,” the People’s Progressive Party Leader told media operatives on Thursday during a press conference.

However, Jagdeo asserted that he does not believe persons who are found with the illegal substance in their possession – small amounts or not- should go about unpunished either.

“I’m not in favor of them going scot-free. Let us find another [way] of sentencing. Sentence them to community work, sentence them to rehabilitation. Let them go in and spend a month in rehabilitation because the mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers who are doing this, you don’t want them locked away. Let us sentence them to rehabilitation. A month of rehab you have to go in for to say ‘stop smoking the marijuana’. They can go and get help,”  he explained.

The former President further said that he does not believe that the decriminalizing of small quantities of marijuana is as contentious as the “death penalty” and as such, is certain that every Guyanese family would prefer for the custodial sentences to be removed for the small crime.

“ I’m sure every family in Guyana would want that…To clog up our jails with people- a young child, may for the first time, walk down the road and get encouraged, you know, peer pressure and they do it and they get locked away for three years. Which family would want that? Christians, Hindus or Muslims? This is compassionate ground…There are more contentious issues, like the death penalty, but this one, I don’t think we will find any family who will want that happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, probed as to whether his support for the removal of custodial sentencing for small amounts of cannabis was also that of his party, Jagdeo responded in the negative.

“Not the PPP. I made it clear. The PPP hasn’t pronounced on it. I will allow a conscience vote on it. They can do the same. I will vote in favor of decriminalizing it but I will allow a conscience vote on the part of our members…They’re Members of Parliament and they’re free to vote however they want,” he confirmed.

Moreover, the Opposition Leader stressed that this issue should not be considered a political one.

“This cuts across politics. You have young people in PPP and PNC families who are caught with marijuana. Young kids. It’s not a political issue,” he maintained.

However, Jagdeo made sure to mention that his support does not stretch to the complete legalization of marijuana.

“I’m not supporting the legalization of marijuana- growing marijuana, trading marijuana, selling marijuana in Guyana. You go to jail for that sort of thing. That’s our law. I’m not supporting it. Let’s be clear about that one,” he asserted.

Just this week, the Alliance for Change –a party within the coalition Government- expressed its “outrage” and “deep concern” regarding the sentences being handed down via the judicial system for persons who are found in possession of small quantities of cannabis.

The issue was raised following the sentencing of a 27-year-old father and poultry farmer, Carl Mangal to three years’ incarceration for the possession of eight grams of marijuana.

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