Features — 05 October 2012 — by Janus

There should never have been a law which made marijuana use a crime. And, there would never have been such a law if the citizens of Belize were able to make their views heard in favor or against. The British Administration made that law when Belize was a Crown Colony and the Governor, Financial Secretary, Colonial Secretary, Attorney General and Accountant General comprised the Executive Council and dominated the Legislative Council. There were no Committees, to which Bills for an Act were submitted for consideration and report.

I can imagine a conversation between the Governor and the Colonel Secretary which went like this: Governor to C.S.: “We have to make a law to stop this ‘coolie’ weed smoking habit from spreading to the rest of the native population.” C.S. to Governor: “I’d get the A.G. to draft an Ordinance.” Story done. They didn’t know of any harmful effects then, except that the East Indians began to think and act as if they were everybody’s equal.

Marijuana is the leaf of the Cannabis plant, dried and crushed. Perfectly natural, nothing added or taken away. People roll it in paper and smoke it like in cigarette. They like the effect it has on them. It has harmful effects which have been documented. It is not more harmful than alcohol, which is lawful. If you put any fruit in a container, with or without water, cover it and let it lie, it will eventually ferment and form wine, with a low alcoholic content. Through the process of distillation, some fermented substances, like the juice of sugarcane, become rum, with as high an alcoholic content as you wish. You are free to drink as much rum or vodka or gin as you wish, regardless of their alcoholic content and, regardless of how much harm you do to yourself.

A man goes to a party to celebrate a victory in sports or in politics. The mood is jubilant. Drinks flow freely. The party ends long after midnight and everybody is high. Driving on the way home, he has a momentary lapse of judgment and there is an accident. Is that a harmful effect? Friends are at a bar drinking liquor. There is ill feeling between two of them, over a real or imagined insult. They get into an argument, ending in a fight. One stabs the other with a broken battle. Is that a harmful effect?

For many years, a man lives high on a cliff with a wonderful view of the sea. There is a “waterhole” where he and friends get together to have fun on weekends. He has walked home a hundred times near the cliff’s edge, in all the stages between sobriety and inebriation, but, this time, he stumbles and falls over the edge. Is that a harmful effect? Perhaps not, perhaps, they are only consequential but, I can’t think of similar things happening to weed smokers. Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

There is a certain television station which has made it a cause celebré to persuade its listeners to oppose the proposal which I and my associates have advocated, that is, that the law should be amended to make the possession of a small quantity of marijuana, a lesser offence than a crime. Plus T.V. seems to be the most informed of the harmful effects of marijuana use. The religious body Plus T.V. represents, along with other church groups, oppose the proposal to decriminalize, stating their reasons for their position. The Belize National Teachers Union is also against decriminalization, giving for their reason that marijuana is a gateway drug. I think the reasons given are valid in opposition to the legalization of marijuana, but not against the proposal to decriminalize.

I think the strongest argument against decriminalization would be negative experiences of countries which have taken this step. Sixteen countries and fourteen states in the USA have decriminalized the drug. Twelve more American states have legislation pending in their Congresses. None of the administrations which have taken this action have changed their minds despite the rumor that one or more of them have considered or are considering. Clearly, the trend is in favor of decriminalization and, it is reasonable to believe that the trend will continue because, the law, as it stands, has done and is doing more harm than good.

People have been giving free rein to their imagination in newspaper writings, predicting dire consequences to the society if marijuana is decriminalized. When, all we have to do is find out the experiences of countries which have taken this step. Is this responsible journalism? Here is an example of responsible journalism.

I submit excerpts from:- The Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization: An Update
Author: Eric W. Single
Source: Journal of Public Health Policy
Published by: Palgrave MacMillan Journals

The dual purpose of marijuana policy

“Marijuana policy has two goals: to minimize health and safety hazards associated with use, and to minimize the social cost and adverse individual consequences that result from attempts to control use.”

The effects of decriminalization: Initial evaluations

“In the decade prior to the enactment of ‘decriminalization’ laws, with the risk of arrests very low and marijuana readily available, trends in use appear to have been relatively unaffected by the existing criminal laws against possession. Under these circumstances, one would expect, ‘decriminalization’ to result in minimal changes in the number of users, while reducing the social costs and adverse individual consequences of criminalization. The available evidence supports this conclusion. Decriminalization measures have had little or no impact on rates of use but, they have substantially reduced the social costs associated with the enforcement of marijuana laws.”

I would like to recommend Mr. Single’s article for reading by those who are for or against decriminalization. You will be better informed on the subject, even if you remain steadfast in your original position.

I would like my government to consider the pros and cons of this question very carefully, as they usually do and, have the courage of their conviction to act, if they favor the affirmative, which has not been the practice in developing countries.

As a matter of interest, there are two countries where marijuana is illegal but, the law is not enforced, as a matter of public policy. The countries are India and Cambodia.

This is a note about the practice in India: “Despite the high prevalent usage, the law makes it illegal to possess any form of the psychoactive. However, this law is rarely enforced and, is treated as a low priority across India.

Some years ago, in a moment of resolution, a former Prime Minister gave an order to the Ministry of National Security to stop enforcing the law against Cannabis as rigorously as they were accustomed. He backed off when a few prominent members of the legal fraternity challenged his authority. We would be in a far better position now, if he had had the courage of his conviction.

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