(JollofNews) – The Gambia National Assembly has voted to lessen the penalties imposed on people found guilty of possessing and trafficking
Under previous legislations, people guilty of possession of drugs in the west African country faced a D250, 000. 00 fine and or a three-year jail term.
Since the introduction of the tough law in 2010, figures by the Gambian Ministry of the Interior shows that 349 people were arrested and prosecuted in the country between 2010 and 2013 for possession of cannabis.
Many of those prosecuted ended up in jail as they were unable to pay the heavy fines imposed by the courts. These has increased the country’s prison population and added pressure on prison authorities.
But under the new law, anyone guilty of possession of 0.1 grams and 150 grams of cannabis for the first time will be liable to a fine of not less than D50.000 and not exceeding D100, 000 or imprisonment for a term not less than six months but not exceeding one year or both the fine and imprisonment.
Anyone guilty of possessing 151 grams and 500 grams of cannabis will be liable to a fine of not less than D100,000 and not exceeding D150,000 or imprisonment for a term not less than one year and not exceeding two years or both the fine and imprisonment.
Furthermore, anyone guilty of possessing over 500 grams of cannabis will be liable to a fine of not less than D150,000 and not exceeding D250,000 or imprisonment to a term not less than two years and not exceeding three years or both the fine and imprisonment.
Ousman Sonko, minister of the Interior said the new amendment will help to decongest the prisons and reduce government spending on prison maintenance such as feeding, healthcare and clothing.
“The fact that the average Gambian youths cannot pay this fine, there is a need to revisit this aspect of the Drug Control Act to avoid a situation where many more young people would have been incarcerated,” Minister Sonko stated.
He added: “Moreover, without such an amendment, the number of young ex-convicts who would be out in the streets in the near future would be so huge that it may potentially create a social problem and other acute social vices.
“Such imprisonment of young first-time convicts may expose them to hardened criminals in prisons who may negatively influence their lives forever. That is one of the reasons why we want to scale down the fines depending on the quantity for first-time offenders in cannabis possession.”
Minister Sonko however noted that the Gambia will continue to be steadfast in the fight against cannabis cultivation and trafficking and suspected drug traffickers will face the full weight of the law.