BELMOPAN, Belize, Monday November 6, 2017 – An amended Misuse of Drugs Act, which decriminalized possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, is now law in Belize.
Governor General Sir Colville Young has assented to the Bill, following approval by legislators in the House of Assembly and the Senate late last month.
Now that the Bill has been signed into law, adults can have up to 10 grammes of marijuana in their possession and smoke it on their own premises or somebody else’s private premises, once the owner gives permission.
However, it is still illegal to take the drug on school premises, and the amended legislation provides for monetary and non-recordable penalties for that. Minors caught with any quantity of the drug would also be subject to punishment.
“If you are a minor and you are in possession of marijuana, you will have to be detained. You have to be arrested,” explained Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte.
“It’s just that when you go to court, the court will say ‘good, given this new piece of legislation you young man or young lady we are going to put you through a counseling programme’. In the coming weeks or days, the Minister of Police is going to set forth some regulations that would say what the appropriate counseling is, what is the appropriate guidance. Until then, the Juvenile Court will use whatever measures they use currently to punish minors who have committed offences.”
While Prime Minister Dean Barrow had described the partial decriminalization as a landmark move, the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) has taken issue with the removal of penalties for the possession and private consumption.
“We feel that legalizing, even in a small amount, is a step in the wrong direction, as it will now allow more persons to be involved in this trade,” lamented NEAB president Pastor Lance Lewis.
Vice president Pastor Scott Stirm further complained that the Government passed the law too quickly and ignored all views opposed to its passage.
“The National Evangelical Association of Belize presented to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, on May 20, 2016, letters, reports and the signatures of 225 national pastors and denominational overseers and leaders, expressing our strongest concern and objection to the initiative to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in Belize. That packet included scientific reports… stating the scientific facts of research concerning damage to the brain from daily marijuana use, especially to teenagers…It seems to us that the alarming scientific and real life data has fallen on deaf ears. It seems that the influence of the decriminalizing of marijuana committee has overridden all other voices,” he said.
However, Peyrefitte contended that “given what the church has been found guilty of in recent years…priests and pastors have no moral authority to try and judge anybody out here who wants to smoke marijuana”.
“The churches don’t rail against cigarettes, they don’t rail against alcohol and there’s nothing to prove that marijuana is any more dangerous than those two perfectly legal drugs,” the Attorney General argued, also questioning the church’s motivation for its opposition to the law and charging that given their late intervention, they “just want to object for object sake”.