Non-custodial sentences for small quantities ganja welcomed – Samuels
…will reduce overcrowding, spendingThe recent announcement by President David Granger on the removal of custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana has been welcomed by Director of Prisons (ag), Gladwin Samuels, who said the move will not only serve to reduce the overcrowding within the local prison system but also cutback on expenses.At a press conference two weeks ago, the Head of State said that Government will be moving to abolish custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana. He assured that when the National Assembly returns from recess, the necessary legislation will be presented.This move has been welcomed by Samuels, who explained in a recent interview with Guyana Times that this would tackle the issue of overcrowding within the local prison system.“Yes, it is a welcomed move and it could contribute to the reduction of our population based on what is finally determined as small quantities… We have an average of 345 prisoners who were charged for narcotic-related offences and this specifically marijuana related offences and several of them are charged for quantities that I do believe that if they’re given an opportunity to take part in community service or some other activity, it would be more beneficial to them, more so taking into consideration the fact that the budgetary constraint has always been an issue,” the Prison Director noted.In fact, Samuels went on to posit that apart from the fact that the State would save money that would otherwise be spent on maintaining a large prison population, this will also allow for other avenues to reform persons.“I do believe that someone who is found with possession of small quantities of marijuana, more so for smoking, they should be more geared or directed to an institution that is more tailored to meeting their needs so that they would move away from the bad habit as it is deemed and hopefully be more productive. The fact is, if you bring them to prison, even their ability to contribute to the upkeep of their families would be removed and if that person is the only breadwinner, then the entire family is placed on the breadline,” the Prison Director explained.The issue of non-custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana gained momentum back in March 2016 when inmates at the Camp Street Prison 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 the facility contributed to the events and as such, considerations were re-ignited to reduce custodial sentences for certain offences such as possession of small amounts of marijuana.More recent, however, Government has also come under fire for failure to act on the matter after a 27-year-old poultry farmer, who was charged for possession of 8.4 grams of marijuana, was sentenced to three years imprisonment back in May. According to Guyana’s law, possession of any amount of cannabis over 15 grams is considered trafficking.Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has announced his support for custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana being removed from the law books in their entirety, but maintained that he is not in favour of the legalisation of marijuana for commercial purposes.The decriminalisation/legalisation of marijuana movement is gaining much momentum worldwide with several countries taking steps to decriminalise and legalise the drug.In fact, a Caribbean Community (Caricom) Commission on Marijuana has made recommendation for the decriminalisation of marijuana across member states, saying the substance can be controlled and regulated as in the case of alcohol. This recommendation was placed before the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community which was held in Jamaica in July. During the conference, it was recognised that Member States would need to review the report in more detail to determine action at the national level in relation to law reform models as proposed by the Commission.