Magistrates can take notice – Harmon on proposed “ganja” changes

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The coalition administration wants magistrates to start implementing its proposal for the removal of custodial sentencing for persons caught with small amounts of marijuana, even though the change is not yet included in the country’s laws.

“In the interim, since it is clear what government’s position is on this matter, I believe there is some ruling, a High Court ruling which says that magistrates can take notice of situations like this and exercise that discretion, even now, before the law becomes put in place,” said Joseph Harmon, the Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency.

“It is something which our judiciary can take notice of, but we not saying that they have to do it,” he added.

The Ministry of the Presidency recently announced that Cabinet – which should be resigned – approved a proposal to remove custodial sentences for 30 grams or less of marijuana.

This means that persons found guilty of possession of small amounts will not be jailed but will face alternative sentencing.

The existing Narcotic Drugs Act of 1988, which criminalizes marijuana use, does not have discretion when dealing with matters above a certain level. It mandates a three-year jail sentence for persons caught with the substance.

At this stage, all Government has done is approved the changes to the law. But before these changes can become law, the amendments have to be made in the National Assembly.

Harmon said the government, through its Attorney General Basil Williams – is working on ensuring the bill is laid in the National Assembly as soon as possible.

The Opposition has already condemned this move, saying that it is illegal and an attempt to mislead the public.

According to the Opposition, the Coalition government should have already resigned in keeping with Article 106 (6) of the constitution and the recent ruling of the Caribbean Court Justice.

Furthermore, the Opposition noted that the Coalition had four years to address the issue of removing custodial sentences for possession of small quantities of marijuana but failed to do so.