… cautions against “copying” practices from developed countriesBy Devina SamarooThe decriminalisation/legalisation of marijuana movement is gaining much momentum worldwide however Guyanese President David Granger is cautioning against buying into practices being embarked upon by developed countries thathave the requisite framework in place to support such legislative reforms.Marijuana decriminalisation not a current concern – Granger cautions against “copying” practices from developed countriesWhile other countries have taken steps to decriminalise and legalise the drug, the local debate on the issue went as far as the drafting of a “Ganja Bill”, which was to be tabled in the National Assembly earlier in January but this was indefinitely postponed.Igniting the discussion once again, President Granger made it clear that such reforms are not a current concern of the Government and on a more personal note, he declared that he will not subscribe to the usage of marijuana.“This is not something that is a preoccupation of the Administration at the present time… (and) I would not counsel the use of marijuana by young people or anybody,” he firmly stated during an interview on ‘The Public Interest’.He pointed out that the Administration needs to be careful not to adapt policies being practiced by developed countries which have stronger regulatory frameworks to enforce the laws.On this note, President Granger said a comprehensive study on the decriminalisation/legalisation of marijuana in Guyana should be done before any decisions be taken.Given that the overcrowding at the prison is said to be largely contributed by individuals on remand or incarcerated for marijuana possession, critics would argue that it would be in the best interest to introduce the decriminalisation legislation to deal with that problem.But, President Granger argued that the focus should be on advocating for noncustodial sentences – which is an initiative currently being explored by the judicial and executive arms of the Government.Previously, the President had noted that Government is already working towards reducing the frequency of tobacco smoking and therefore the decriminalisation of marijuana would be a blatant contradiction.DividedContrary to the President’s stance, the Alliance For Change (AFC) faction of the coalition Government has been strongly advocating for the decriminalisation of marijuana.AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes, with the help of Attorney Mark Waldron, compiled a draft Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2015 which seeks to soften the penalties for marijuana possession.The draft stipulates that persons who are found in possession of the drug for personal use will be required to pay a fine of $10,000 or to perform community service for a period of time.AFC parliamentarian Michael Carrington, who was slated to present the Bill to the National Assembly had also expressed his full support of such legislation. He posited that no one should go to jail for ‘taking a smoke’.Prime Minister and AFC Vice Chairman Moses Nagamootoo had also spoken extensively on the need for Guyana to move in that direction.“In Guyana, we are not traversing new grounds. We believe that too many people are in our jails today for the use of the drug. I don’t see anyone in jail for tobacco or alcohol and so we have to be careful that we do not criminalise our young people and condemn them to jail for the possession of marijuana,” he stated while on the campaign trail last year.Pros and consMany analysts have argued that the legalisation of marijuana is catching on because countries have realised that they can make money through the generation of huge financial revenues.Contentions are that the legalisation of marijuana will also cut a big slice out of the business to organised crime.On the downside, there may be an increase in health-related issues caused by excessive marijuana ingestion.There will also be multiple expensive court cases where marijuana usage is challenged and there will be appeals to these cases if they are lost, all of which will also prove to be expensive.It is also argued that the criminal organisations will simply find additional methods to make illicit funds from the growing, sale and transport of marijuana. For example, cigarette bootlegging (the illegal traffic of a legal substance) is a big moneymaker and there is no reason to believe that some form of marijuana bootlegging will not be added to their profit schemes.Only recently at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on international Drug Policy, of which Guyana participated, Canadian Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced the country’s plans to introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 that would fully legalise adult cannabis consumption.In the Caribbean, Jamaica took the first step towards decriminalising the drug back in 2015.