General — 27 September 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Marijuana decriminalization still on the table

A report coming out of Mexico this week indicated that a lobby for the decriminalization of marijuana is being supported by a broad cross-section of people, including ex-ministers and businessmen, on the claim that such a move would curb violence and corruption.

Here in Belize, the Government is still looking at options for decriminalization, although no final decision has been taken.

Last year, Belize began proposing the decriminalization of up to 10 grams of marijuana. Chairman of the Marijuana Decriminalization Committee, Doug Singh, told Amandala today that he hopes to have the final report submitted to Cabinet by the end of the year; and he will recommend to the Government that the report should simultaneously be made public.

Singh has previously emphasized that “…the proposal is not to legalize the offence, thereby purging it of all its penalties; it is merely to reduce and regulate.”

Today, he said that the report will also look at the various definitions that could be used for the reform, including the suggestion that it should be called a de-penalization.

The Committee has been accepting public comments, and it has been meeting with key interest groups, including the churches – some of which have reservations that the decriminalization could lead to the perception of permissiveness for the use of marijuana, Singh told us.

He said that they hope to consult next week with the Belize Medical and Dental Association and the Belize Bar Association.

Singh acknowledged having received over 100 e-mails indicating objection to the decriminalization of marijuana.

The current proposal calls for Belize to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, which would be subject to fines, mandatory drug education and no imprisonment. Currently, the possession of under 60 grams of marijuana is a criminal offence and punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to three years imprisonment.

In expressing its broad support for the proposal, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry has proposed that “legal possession be reduced to 5 grams.”

Last September, the president of the Belize National Teachers Union, Luke Palacio, expressed his reservations, and the union had issued a statement that referred to “the negative effect of its use on the body, especially the brain and rational behavior,” which, it said, “far outweighs its known medicinal uses.”

Singh told us that the report will include a short section on the medical uses, with information provided by Dr. Rosito Arvigo, who had understudied Belizean herbalist Don Elijio Panti (deceased). However, the proposal does not entail the legalization of marijuana for medical use.

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