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Guyana: government tables bill to remove prison time for small amounts of cannabis

The narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances bill 2021, which removes the penalty of jail for anyone convicted of having 15 grams or less of cannabis, was tabled in the National Assembly on thursday.

Under the legislation, the offence would be punishable by mandatory counselling “for a period to be determined by the counsellor”.

Currently, possession of 15 grams or less could attract a trafficking charge with a prison sentence between three to five years, and a fine of no less than GUY$30,000 (US$144). The bill makes having up to 15 grams of cannabis an offence of simple possession.

An amount over 15 grams, but no more than 30 grams, will attract community service. This includes employment in a public work under the Extra-Mural Work Act for a maximum of six months.

“Public work” is defined by Section 2 of the Extra-Mural Work Regulations as including “any work on state or government land or any property belonging to, or rented or leased to the State or with the permission of a local government authority, on any land or any other property belonging to, or rented or leased to, the local government authority”.

The bill also increases the quantity of cannabis that would automatically attract a trafficking charge from 15 grams to more than 30 grams.

It also removes the fine and prison term for smoking, inhaling, sniffing, or otherwise using cannabis or for being found in a place used for that purpose, or being the owner, occupier, or concerned in the management of any place used for preparation of cannabis for that purpose.

The bill also caters for those instances where an offender may refuse to consent or breach an order of mandatory counselling or community service. The amended Act would grant the court the discretion to order the offender to pay a fine of GUY$250,000 (US$1,200) where it sees fit.

“The amendments are meant to reduce the burden on the justice system, and also covers issues like recidivism and prison overcrowding. This would not only save the State money, but would also help to keep families together and rebuild communities affected and disadvantaged by the incarceration of persons, especially youth,” a statement from the Department of Information said.

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