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Penalty reduced for first-time cannabis offenders

Aug 27, 2014, 11:27 AM | Article By: Njie Baldeh

The Drug Control (Amendment) Act, 2014 which amends the Drug Control Act, 2003 has been passed by the National Assembly meeting in Banjul.

The minister of the Interior, Ousman Sonko, in presenting the bill told deputies that it “seeks to amend the Drug Control Act by disaggregating the punishment provided for first-time offenders.”

Thus several amendments were made to the 2003 Act, and new lesser penalties introduced for possession of cannabis by first-time offenders.

Consequently, henceforth a person found possessing cannabis, as a first-time offender, is liable on conviction, where the quantity is between 0.1 gram and 150 grams, to a fine of not less than D50,000 and not exceeding D100,000 or imprisonment for a term of not less than six months, but not exceeding one year or both fine and imprisonment.

If the quantity is between 151 grams to 500 grams, the fine is not less than D100,000 and not more than D150,000 or imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than two years, or both the fine and imprisonment.

Where 501 grams and above are found to be in possession, the fine is not less than D150,000 anmd not more than D250,000 or imprisonment for no less than two years and not exceeding three years or to both the fine and imprisonment. 

Minister Sonko in explaining the changes to the law told the National Assembly that the arrest and conviction of young people is a matter of grave concern to the authorities, and that between 2010 and 2013 as many as 1538 persons were arrested.

He said there is a need to amend the Act to reduce the penalties for certain drugs offences, such as possession of cannabis, for first-time offenders.

The police minister said fines imposed on Gambian youths may be too onerous, and it is necessary to revisit the Act, to avoid jailing many more young people.

He said lighter sentencing for drugs offences would also help decongest the country’s prisons, and reduce public spending in this area.

The amended law also provided for changing the name of the National Drug Enforcement Agency, NDEA, to the Drug Law Enforcement Agency-The Gambia, DLEAG.

The presenter said the new name shows it is a “law enforcement” institution, adding that the new nomenclature is consistent with what such agencies are called in the sub region.