We, the members of the Guyana American Patriotic Forum (GAPF), are seeking the immediate intervention of the Government of Guyana to halt the criminalization of Guyanese youths who are routinely incarcerated for smoking small amounts of marijuana. GAPF adds its voice to the many civil society stakeholders inside and outside of Guyana calling for the decriminalization of the use and or possession of a minimal quantity of marijuana.
We remain adamantly opposed to the existing practice of incarceration for the following reasons:
First, the imposition of a term of imprisonment for the possession and use of small quantities of marijuana is based on an outmoded concept of jurisprudence, which places emphasis on retribution rather rehabilitation, and which has led to an exponential increase in the prison population in the United States of America and Europe.
Second, most progressive nations in world today – in North America, South America, Central America, Caribbean, Africa and Asia have decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana used for personal consumption.
Third, there is no empirical evidence establishing a causal relationship between the consumption of marijuana and an increase in criminal activity.
Fourth, there are several traditions, such as the Rastafarian religion and several indigenous religions in South America and Asia, which regard the consumption that marijuana as a sacred sacrament. And, there is scientific evidence that the cannabis plant is a prophylactic in the treatment of certain diseases, such as glaucoma and hypertension.
Fifth, the imposition of prison terms on youths leads to their separation from society for a substantial period of time, exposes them to homosexual attacks from adult prisoners in penal institutions, interrupts their normal educational progression, leads to disintegration of
families and creates a prison record, which will follow them for the rest of their lives, and prevent them from obtaining gainful employment.
Sixth, the incarceration of young people has led to a dramatic increase in the prison population, a congestion of the criminal calendars, an explosive mixture of sentenced prisoners and defendants awaiting trial, which has challenged the capacity of the government to provide adequate prison space for defendants facing trial and has led to prison outbreaks in Georgetown and Lusignan.
Seventh, the increased incarceration of young people is clearly contrary to the principles and policies of the coalition government which has emphasized increased education for young people, increased employment of young people in the productive sectors of the economy, and the utilization of young people in the exploitation of Guyana’s abundant natural resources.
For these reasons, GAPF calls upon the Government of Guyana to implement a comprehensive review of the criminal laws, and to eliminate the imposition of prison sentences for the possession and use of small quantities of marijuana.
If the government deems it necessary to impose penal sanctions for these activities, they should explore the use of alternatives to incarceration, such as, psychiatric evaluations, drug counselling, probation, community service and the imposition of fines.
Guyana American Patriotic Forum