GUYANA: Marijuana criminalization impacts – By Akola Thompson


A few weeks ago, members of the Rastafarian community staged protests in front of the Attorney General’s Chambers. While these specific protests were inspired by the recent arrest of former Council President Ras Leon Saul for possession of a small amount of cannabis, Rastafarians have for years been calling on government officials to lead decriminalization efforts.

Despite the many promises that have been made over the years, to date, very little has been done to seriously propel us towards marijuana decriminalization. 

In responding to the protest actions, Attorney General Anil Nandlall said that the government should be given more time – decriminalization is currently not a priority issue given the realities of COVID-19, blackouts etc. He also stated that any law change/amendment regarding marijuana is not something that can be done without the input of the people. There are several things to consider here.

The first is the issue of priority. It is time that we get rid of this either or fallacy of what is important to focus efforts on, particularly since very little effort is being placed on the areas so readily identified. The reality is that marijuana decriminalization will never be seen as a priority because it is perceived as a drug that is only utilized by those who are Black and poor. This perception came about only because they are the ones that are heavily targeted. Other users are simply protected by their privilege and it will never matter to them whether weed remains classified as illicit.

Additionally, politicians are so concerned with not upsetting their largely conservative voter base that they would actively suppress any real efforts to bring about much needed progressive changes, no matter the cost. It does not help that government is largely made up of those who come with conservative biases and motivations. They cling to their colonial heritage with fierceness.

The fact that the Opposition and governing party have different Bills does not help the situation as neither has inspired confidence in their capacity to maturely deal with the issue. The Opposition’s Bill seeks to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana while the majority government’s bill maintains marijuana possession as a criminal offence but removes jail time as a penalty. The different stances can see this debate going on perpetually, particularly since it is not a priority.

The Opposition in their manifesto made promises of decriminalization but the entirety of their brief stint in parliament ran contrary to that. There was a very disjointed approach with one faction of the coalition being for decriminalization while the other, with significant power to make it happen, was against it. This was particularly seen when former president David Granger stated that marijuana decriminalization would send the wrong message to the population since the government was heading efforts to ban public smoking.

Isn’t it quite interesting the rationales politicians will come up with when they quite simply do not want to do something? At least there was clarity under the Bharrat Jagdeo administration. He straight up in 2011 said that decriminalization was not something that would happen under his presidency – and it did not. His stance since then (at least publicly) appears to have softened, but there still is a lot of tottering from key actors within the government.

While they drag their upper-class feet though, the court system is steadily becoming overburdened and the opportunities of youths are being snatched away with imprisonment. Guyana continues to wage a ridiculous war on marijuana that significantly harms members of our population. Those from whom we inherited these laws, now have weed dispensaries, marijuana infused teas and candies being sold openly. The role of government is not to maintain stagnancy; it is to create an environment that allows growth and centres the well-being of all its citizens.

The role of government is not to maintain stagnancy; it is to create an environment that allows growth and centres the well-being of all its citizens. There is significant harm and social injustice seen through the maintenance of these laws and the impacts of marijuana criminalization is a priority issue.

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  • Dennis Albert  On 07/10/2021 at 1:47 am

    Legalise the herbs for religious purposes and criminalise the trafficking rather than going after the Rasta who don’t own dem eight storey malls across Camp Street with laundered monies.

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