BELMOPAN, Belize – The Belize government has introduced legislation aimed at decriminalising the possession of cannabis or marijuana in amounts not exceeding ten grams or less than half an ounce.
But the move has been criticised by the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) citing scientific studies and reports showing the dangers of marijuana use in younger persons and that similar experiments to decriminalise the drug in at least one United States city has failed.
The Dean Barrow government Friday piloted the amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act that also provides for monetary and non-recordable penalties for possession on school premises and in specified circumstances make smoking on private premises no longer an offence.
The Bill has been referred to the Health and Human Development Committee of the House.
Prime Minister Barrow speaking afterwards told reporters that this is just the beginning.
“I am excited; 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 both a matter of conviction that it is something good to do, but also that the society as a whole will support it.”
He defended the position in not debating the bill through all the stages saying “because it is something that is likely to be controversial, certainly from the point of view from the churches.
“They have already, in the course of the exercise that the persons we had asked to look at this – in the course of the exercise they have had some disagreements with the churches, so I don’t think it would have been fair to do it in that way.”
NEAB member Louis Wade, said the “position of NEAB is based on the advice received from the Drug Control Council a couple years ago, when the Council stated they were opposed to the idea, because the social structures were not in place as yet.
“We know that those structures are not in place,” he said, adding that the government should be concentrating on the economic issues confronting the country.
Prime Minister Barrow said introduction of the legislation does not provide for people to feel they could smoke marijuana in public.
He said there would have to be public education campaigns “because I gather that already on the talk shows, the level of, not ignorance, perhaps wishful thinking, is amazing.
“So we will have to let people know that basically we are creeping before we expect to walk. And it doesn’t go nearly as far as I am sure a lot of people would like. So you are perfectly correct; there will have to be some sort of an education campaign.” (CMC)