5860 Seashore Drive
5th Sept. 2012
The Editor Amandala
I should like to comment on the article on the front page of your edition of September 5, 2012 titled, “Teachers reject marijuana decriminalization.” The BNTU declares that the proposal to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of the drug for personal use is “premature and dangerous.”
Marijuana has harmful effects but, how can it be premature to propose a change in a law which has been in existence from the time Belize was a colony and the citizens of the sovereign and independent state of Belize have never been asked, whether they support it or not. The proposal, in the view of many citizens, is not only mature, but overdue.
The proposal to decriminalize would be dangerous only, if people are restrained from forming the marijuana habit, only by the fear of going to jail. There are other means of discouraging individuals from wanting to begin smoking marijuana, such as the performance of community services instead of a fine.
Our judges are empowered to impose such punishment as an alternative to fines or imprisonment for offences, where imprisonment is not mandated. A well established and highly respected body such as the Belize National Teachers Union might recommend such service as a penalty for marijuana use, instead of the proposed small fine.
Any drug that a user depends on to satisfy a need, such as alcohol, marijuana or amphetamines, may lead some individuals, who are so inclined, to graduate to the use of cocaine, heroin and so on. BNTU’S argument may be valid against the legalization of marijuana, but not against the proposal to decriminalize. This decriminalization proposal is limited to reducing the possession of small quantities of the drug, from a crime to a misdemeanor; in order to deal, compassionately and sensibly, with a particular phenomenon, which is the result of the present law. The phenomenon is the incarceration of mostly young male offenders (users, not dealers), who had no previous police record and, may be peaceful and productive.
Other countries have taken the step that we are proposing and so, we know from their experience whether they made a wise decision. If they did not think that they had made a wise decision, they would have reversed their decision, which is the prerogative of governments. None of them have.
I believe that the majority of Belizeans support the proposed initiative. A public opinion poll would confirm this, in spite of the vigorous efforts of a television station, which is the voice of a particular religious denomination. I am convinced that the decriminalization initiative would be a sensible and compassionate decision for Government to make.