BELMOPAN, Belize, Tuesday October 24, 2017 – In a rare show of support, legislators in Belize’s House of Assembly have stamped their approval on amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which decriminalizes the possession of marijuana in amounts not exceeding 10 grammes.
However, the amended legislation still has to be passed in the Senate and must then get the assent of the Governor General to take effect.
The amendment seeks to decriminalize the smoking of marijuana in private premises and imposes a fine, which does not become a criminal record for the offender, instead of police arrest, and for the possession of small amounts of marijuana less than 10 grammes on school premises.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow described the move as landmark and said he would not be deterred by critics.
“Clearly it is only a first step and a small step, and I know there will be the naysayers; I suspect we are going to hear from the churches. But I feel as a matter of conviction that it is something good to do, but also that the society as a whole will support it,” he said.
Opposition Leader John Briceno, however, suggested the amendments should have gone one step further towards the legalization of marijuana.
“I believe that there are numerous benefits to legalizing the use of marijuana in small quantities.
“For example, studies have proven that adults who smoke weed lose weight, they can keep in better shape, they have a smaller waist size; they are better [with] insulin levels. I won’t say names but they will be…slim, trim and fit,” he told legislators.
Minister of State Elodio Aragon Junior said the amendment would be significant for the hemp industry, since the bill excludes industrial hemp from the definition of cannabis.
“So that the provisions that apply to marijuana will no longer apply to industrial hemp. Industrial hemp will be defined as any part of the plant of the genus cannabis sativa with a THC concentration of such amount as may be prescribed, and as we all know the hemp industry is a vibrant industry that has great potential for Belize,” he said.
Junior further argued that it would reduce the criminalization of our young people, especially youths who smoke marijuana; help in reducing the prison population; and also assist the entire criminal justice system – from the police to prisons.
“And it would, in effect, create a cost saving in regards to arresting, sentencing and imprisonment, which we all know comes with our budgetary resources that have to be allocated to ensure that these things are carried out,” he said.