GUYANA: Decriminalisation of marijuana is necessary – By Akola Thompson

Marijuana plant

By February 3, 2023

In 2021, the Guyana parliament approved an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Bill, resulting in the removal of custodial sentences for persons in possession of 30 grammes or less of cannabis. While this was a good first step, it falls woefully short of the legislative changes that are needed to correct the social harm that criminalization has wreaked on communities for decades.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall in speaking on the bill stated that decriminalisation was never the aim, and to that, I ask, why not? If it is one thing Guyanese politicians love it’s extensive consultations. This is not to say that consultations are not necessary, they are an incredibly important part of democratic processes. However, there has been the tendency to utilise this as a way of not making firm decisions on divisive legislation such as marijuana decriminalisation, removal of the buggery laws etc.       

It is understood that politicians will play to their religious and business bases, which of course often coalesce with anti-poor, anti-equity ways of living. There is a responsibility however, for the government to make progressive policies that are not tethered to abiding by religious and capitalist interests. We have clearly seen time and time again that consultation means very little to them if it is something they themselves can benefit from.

While there is often the framing that the law and justice system is blind, these are more ideological aims rather than reality. Anti-narcotic laws such as the marijuana legislation primarily impact Black persons from underprivileged communities. When I and others talk about how the system continues to impact Black people, particularly those who are unambiguously Black, it is evidenced in rates of imprisonment in comparison to other ethnic groups. Black communities have incredibly high levels of policing. The argument is often made that this is needed because of high levels of crime in these areas, but these real or perceived crimes did not occur in a vacuum.

Predominantly Black communities in Guyana have been historically underfunded, ostracised, and targeted, severely limiting their educational and professional opportunities. When people began responding to the lack in these communities, thus increasing social deviance, police presence within them grew. Police do not make communities safer, nor do they even prevent crime. Largely it is reactive, and that reaction is often lacking, misplaced and misguided. Policing systems were quite literally funded on an anti-Black agenda, an agenda that still remains intact today as they monitor communities in droves. All this does is ensure the cycle of incarceration, crime and recidivism, of course contributing towards maintaining the perception that Black communities are criminal ones.

Decriminalising marijuana will not lead to a rapid descent in morality as many are wont to think. What it will lead to is decreased policing of predominantly Black communities, and having direct impacts on reduced recidivism rates. Focusing more on holistic community development programmes (not only on handouts) will have far more positive returns than criminalising a plant whose effects on one and others are minimally harmful in comparison to cigarettes and alcohol.

A key feature of this amendment should have paid consideration to expunging the records of those who were imprisoned on possession of marijuana charges. Many are still languishing in jail and are now unable to access many opportunities due to them having a possession record. This decades-long war on marijuana has had immense negative impacts on communities, with entire family units destroyed, imprisoned and killed over the possession of one or two spliffs. How does not acknowledging these impacts make for a progressive bill? Why were the sentences of those imprisoned prior to its passage not ended? When it comes to socio-economic issues in particular, the government continues to play a game of trying to appease all sides, when in actuality all they are doing is contributing towards continued societal deterioration.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • derrycksgriffith  On 02/05/2023 at 11:40 am


    Marijuana legislation to ban it, or imprison users, is intended primarily for those who are impoverished, socially and politically ostracized.

    This is quite evident in Britain, the USA, and Europe today, especially among the Emmigrants and Communities Of Colour.

    But the fact is that no marijuana smoker has died from smoking that herb. But millions have from smoking cigarettes, a cancer causing product for sure.

    So let us be realistic with our laws, and how it will impact society at large, before we rush to enact laws, that wil not provide the safety we so hastily think it will.

    Derryck Griffith.

  • Chris  On 02/05/2023 at 7:56 pm

    Guyana’s Narcotics Laws dish out stiff penalties.

    Locking people up for life for possession of narcotics seems a bit draconian.

    The rule of thumb is, don’t do drugs and you won’t have to worry about spending the rest of your life in prison.

  • wic  On 02/10/2023 at 9:09 pm

    I am not a smoker and never used any kind of narcotic but agree marijuana use should be decriminalized. However, anyone at the wheel of a vehicle who gets into an accident under the influence of a drug, should be locked up. One problem here of course, is what happens when a pedestrian who is “stoned” walks in front of a vehicle? does the law allow for involuntary blood samples to clear the vehicle’s driver?

    As for the author’s comment that Guyanese politicians like to consult; such takes place all over the world and is good to ensure due diligence and proces, in arriving at an equitable solution of a problem.

    As for minorities being over-policed, that’s true to some extent. However, minorities also have a long history all over the world of not abiding by the social and other rules of the society in which they live. I don’t believe the author is old enough to be aware that “choke and rob” and “choke and stroke” ie: mugging or mugging and rape were used as political weapons in Guyana particular, in Georgetown. When however, the then govt. took “political control” over the city and the potential victims stayed out of the city, the muggers then accustomed to easy pickings, turned on their own. Very sad, but the genie was let out of the bottle and not easily put back in.

    So, perhaps Ms. Thompson, perhaps you should get out in the community and advise those who feel dispossessed that conforming to the rules of society would reap great benefits individually and collectively. I live in Canada and have done lots of volunteer work that has benefitted blacks here and fund raised to help some communities in Guyana; I can assure you that to help some minorities it can be very heavy lifting.

    • derrycksgriffith  On 02/11/2023 at 9:30 am


      I respect this person’s comnents about his personal experiences with marijuana, and with some specific group/s impacted by it’s useage.

      However, I must stress that it is not only minorites whom are targeted mostly, but those whom are politicaly dis-enfranchised too.

      Let us take note from those societies that have enacted legislation, that is realistic and fair, for all who consume narcotics.

      And use commonsense in the type of penalty, each violater should experience also.

      Derryck Griffith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: