Letters — 28 October 2017
Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2017 — the need for greater public education

Dear Editor,
Please allow me a space in your prestigious newspaper to add to the discourse on the decriminalisation of certain quantities of marijuana. Firstly, I want to state clearly that I support the decriminalization of certain quantities of marijuana and any other law which seems to be applied disproportionately against the poor.

However, I have a few concerns. The Government and promoters of the Bill say that it’s not intended to promote marijuana use, but to decriminalize a behavior or persons who are otherwise not criminal except for their use of marijuana. It also seeks to correct an “injustice visited upon certain classes of people.” I am very much concerned that there has not been much public education on this matter of public interest. In summary, the Bill, if passed into law as is, will provide for:

– A new definition of ‘cannabis’ which excludes “medicinal preparations from that plant…” and also excludes “Industrial Hemp”.

– The decriminalization of the possession of 10 grams or less.

– Decriminalization of the smoking of cannabis on private premises with the consent of the homeowner or lawful occupier.

– Decriminalization of the smoking of cannabis in a hotel or other accommodations by the registered guest, providing that the establishment allows it.

– The lowering of penalties where persons are found in possession of 10 grams or less but where the person was found at an educational institution. In these cases, the persons should be given a warning in the first instance, then a ticket for subsequent occasions.

– Mandatory drug treatment or drug counselling where the person found in possession of 10 grams or less is a minor.

– The decriminalization of the possession of utensils used for preparing or smoking marijuana where the person found with the utensils had in his possession up to 10 grams or less of marijuana.

This Bill also creates two new sections to the Misuse of Drug Act. The first is a new section 28A, which basically allows for the Minister to make regulations to give effect to the Act. The other new section, 28B, allows for the expungement of criminal records for persons with conviction of possession of certain quantities of marijuana and where the fine was up to $1,000. Whilst the new section 28A will allow the Minister to make regulations to give effect to the Act and these new provisions in particular, it would have been a good idea to have the regulations available for public education.

As a result of this not being done, we are unclear on a number of things. The public, and I strongly believe, even the police, is unsure of how the warnings and tickets will be administered. We equally don’t know how the mandatory drug treatment and counselling will be administered to minors. Perhaps these will be cleared up in the upcoming weeks. The public needs to know how the police will treat complaints from persons being affected by marijuana smoking emanating from their neighbour, who is smoking his marijuana on his private premises.

Will we soon see the establishment of medical marijuana? I have attended concerts where I observe the police conducting searches for the drug; will this stop, or will persons be allowed to possess up to 10 grams but not allowed to smoke it in public? So many questions, so few answers!

It is my recommendation that concerts and other large public events be excluded from the provision dealing with the possession of up to 10 grams. Finally, I would call on the authorities to commence urgent public education on this matter of national public interest.

Sharlene Jones
Public Administration and Policy student
University of Belize

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