PPP reiterates call for non-custodial sentences

first_imgSmall amounts of marijuana Following renewed calls by advocates for the unhindered use of small amounts of marijuana, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, has reiterated his Party’s support for non-custodial sentencing for possession of small amounts of the substance.During his October 18 address to the National Assembly, President David Granger attracted a group of protesting Rastafarian advocates who were demanding that Government overhaul its stance on marijuana laws, and many were calling for the full legalisation of the narcotic. However, when members of the press raised this with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday last at his weekly press conference, he stressed that the PPP’s position on the matter remains the same.“We are in favour of alternative forms of sentencing, or rehabilitation; we’re not in favour of legalising marijuana. If you use marijuana, if you sell it, you go to jail as per our existing laws. We’re saying that our laws have to give Magistrates or the Judges the discretion for people who use small quantities for alternative sentencing”, Jagdeo noted.The party’s position is in keeping with the call for alternatives to imprisonment, which include community service and small fines.The Alliance For Change (AFC), which is the minority party in the coalition Government, has been pushing for legislative reform regarding the existing narcotics laws, with its Parliamentarian Michael Carrington having filed a motion to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act in 2015. This sought to soften penalties for marijuana possession. However, that motion was subsequently withdrawn, and now supporters of changing the drug laws highlighted that President David Granger did not include references to marijuana reforms in his recent Parliamentary speech.Guyana Times was told that the bill is unlikely to receive the immediate attention of the National Assembly, though the body has come out of recess. It was explained that Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence was reviewing certain sections of the document.The draft bill had stipulated that persons who are found in possession of the drug for personal use would be required to pay a fine of $10,000, or perform community service for a period of time. Contacted for brief comment on Saturday, Carrington told Guyana Times that sections 4, 5 and 12, which deal with completely removing the jail sentences for small quantities of cannabis, were under review.In late August 2018, President Granger, speaking on the sidelines of an event, gave assurances that non-custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana were a certainty, and that Government would table legislation to this end. He had even noted that Cabinet had collectively agreed to pursue this position, and that there would have been no difficulty in implementing it.The issue of non-custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana was magnified following a March 2016 incident wherein inmates at the Georgetown Prisons started a fire which eventually killed 17 prisoners, while several others, along with prison staff, were injured. A subsequent probe had found, among other issues, significant overcrowding at that penal facility had contributed to the events.In the past, the Opposition Leader had disclosed that the PPP had made a commitment to support a ‘conscience vote’ should the matter come up for a vote in the National Assembly. The decriminalisation/legalisation of marijuana movement is a hot button topic across the globe, with several countries taking steps to decriminalise and legalise the drug.Though searching the web for links to local studies conducted on the drug’s effects on the brain were unsuccessful, there have been several international studies conducted on marijuana use which have yielded both positive and negative results. In a study conducted by researchers at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas, United States, it was found that while regular cannabis use causes the brain to shrink, it also increases the complexity of its wiring. In fact, in the study which was published in 2014, researchers found that the “effects of chronic marijuana use on the brain may depend on age of first use and duration of use.”Researchers had also attributed “existing abnormalities in brain function” and structure of long-term marijuana users, noting that chronic marijuana users have smaller brain volume in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) section of the brain. It was noted that this part of the brain is commonly associated with addiction. In this study, forty-eight adult marijuana users and 62 “gender- and age-matched non-users” were assessed.A 2018 study conducted by King’s College of London found that a cannabis extract could help persons who suffer from psychosis. Researchers found that a single dose of cannabidiol, found in cannabis, could reduce symptoms linked to delusions and hallucinations for young persons who newly develop psychosis. (Shemuel Fanfair)last_img read more