Features — 12 October 2012 — by Janus

Let me be clear, I don’t support smoking marijuana because it is against the law and, it is the duty of a citizen to obey the law, even if it has no moral justification. I wouldn’t drink liquor, which I find enjoyable, if it was still against the law. But, I think it is the duty of the citizen to be well-informed on the issue of harmful drugs, in general, and marijuana, in particular because of its prevalent use. I don’t think that you will be well-informed if you rely on Plus TV and local newspaper articles for information.

The issue on this subject, which has been before the public these past few weeks, has been decriminalization. There has been strong objection to this proposal in certain quarters but, all the cogent arguments I have seen and heard are against legalization, rather than decriminalization of marijuana use. The proposal is to make marijuana use a lesser offence than a crime punishable by a jail term. How can anyone who understands that habits are formed by young people based on those they associate with, not support decriminalization. The reason you don’t smoke marijuana is because your friends didn’t. It could have been otherwise. You should say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I am confident that when all the facts are in, the Government of Belize will decriminalize marijuana because, it is the reasonable, the sensible and the right thing to do. But that will not be the end. Then, the real battle, which those who are against decriminalization, might have been fighting before it was joined, will begin. They will have to advance some better arguments than the horror tales they have been telling and saying that marijuana is a “gateway” to harder drugs.

Please believe me that I do not support marijuana use. I am against any drug which changes people’s behavior. I think that marijuana is the least harmful of all the drugs that groups use to induce conviviality, including alcohol. But, I have no right to consider their use a crime and, neither do you and, neither does the state.

Allow me to diverge. This whole business of the state deciding to compel good behavior by making foolish behavior, criminal, began with the Prohibition laws against alcohol because of its harmful effects. How else can we describe the thinking of the American lawmakers who started this but, as an attack of temporary insanity. They returned to sanity some years later, when they found that the laws did more harm than good, and revoked them. Has alcohol lost its harmful effects? Not at all but, the lawmakers found that they would be more successful in their objection by exercising control through regulation and taxation. Then, they found that there were other substances, more potent than alcohol, which changed people’s behavior, like angel dust, acid, and cocaine and they had attack on the mind, as before. They made a list of prohibited drugs, to which they added marijuana, declared the users criminals, established the Drug Enforcement Administration, appointed a Drug Czar, and declared a war on drugs. After many years and countless casualties, the war continues unabated, as the forces of the ungodly get richer and more powerful due to the operation of a higher law called the Law of Supply and Demand.

I have to diverge again to ask a question. Why would you put a man who does acid or smokes crack cocaine in jail? Such a man belongs in an institution to be taken care of, because he is incapable of taking care of himself.

What is to be done about marijuana? If the objective is to discourage its use, there is a better way to do it than by putting users in jail. That way will be discovered when all the facts are in, for and against, legalization. We live in the information age and, all the information is available for those who seek it.

Let me diverge, once more. When something is going to happen and the efforts of all who are against it are bound to fail, we refer to that event as “inevitable.” A prominent attorney recently said that same sex marriage was inevitable in Belize. I say, “Not before marijuana is legalized.” My position is based on the fact that copulation between members of the male sex cannot be recognized as a human right in a country which affirms the Supremacy of God.

Let’s assume that marijuana is legalized. In the present system, the producers sell to the dealers (distributors) and they sell to runners (retailers.) Nothing is wrong with this system. Government would have to issue licenses to producers and distributors. Hopefully, they will share this pie equitably between Red and Blue businessmen. If they don’t, reasons will be found to cancel licenses when there is a change of government. It is hard to imagine how big and lucrative the marijuana business pie could be. In five years time, the most successful businessmen should be millionaires. It is suggested that government revenue come from a single tax at source, i.e., the producers. The figure that comes to mind is five dollars per ounce. That would be four hundred dollars per pound and twenty million dollars on fifty thousand pounds of produce.

It would need a better quality agency than the one we have, to exercise control, enforce regulations and collect the revenue. Perhaps a Department of the Treasury might have to be established.

Not to forget that the primary purpose of legalizing marijuana is to discourage its use and also to reduce the abuse of harmful drugs, whether legal or not. A portion of the expected revenue should be earned earmarked to make the National Drug Abuse Control Council more effective.

Another thing. We have to do something to help drug addicts. It is heartbreaking to see once respectable, productive citizens become alcoholics, or worse, crackheads. Some of that revenue from the tax on marijuana could be used to establish an institution to rehabilitate drug addicts. By the way, isn’t marijuana supposed to be addictive? Where are the marijuana derelicts?

These are some of the benefits to be gained from legalizing marijuana:-

1. There will be considerable savings on public expenditure associated with the apprehension, trial and incarceration of citizens engaged in the marijuana trade.

2. The police will be able to devote more time and energy to dealing with violent crimes, including murder and armed robbery, burglaries, stealing and juvenile delinquency. A lot of juvenile crime is unreported, which encourages the young miscreants in their activities.

3. It will give peace of mind to a large number of our citizens who, whether they accept or not, are criminals under our law.

4. The reestablishment of marijuana plantations in Belize will make the importation of supplies from Mexico and Guatemala unnecessary, thus saving substantial foreign exchange.

Legalization would not mean approval. Employers, sporting associations, the Public Service, the
Belize Defence Force, etc., etc., would still have the right to make rules governing admission, suspension, and dismissal for marijuana users.

I think that this will be my last essay on this subject, unless marijuana were legalized, then, I will have my say about how legalization should be implemented.

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