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Tell Guatemala to leave Belize alone

EditorialTell Guatemala to leave Belize alone

The matter between Belize and Guatemala is at the International Court of Justice (ICJ); we were forced to go there after Guatemala kept insisting that it has rights to our territory. Guatemala held on to its position even after almost all the nations of the world voted at the United Nations General Assembly in favour of Belize’s right to self-determination with all its territory.

We are at the ICJ; both countries have presented their testimonials; and while we wait for the ICJ to tell the Guatemalans that not a square centimetre of Belize belongs to them, our neighbour continues to act belligerently. It is clearly stated in the 1859 treaty that the mid-channel of the Sarstoon River forms the border between us. Once again, in commemoration of the signing of the border treaty, on April 30, 1859, our Territorial Volunteers, led by Mr. Wil Maheia, made their way up the Sarstoon River to Gracias a Dios Falls, to clean and plant trees at the southernmost border marker between our countries. And once again, Guatemalan soldiers in fast boats harassed our people in our territorial waters.

Guatemala’s position is not only wrong; it is hypocritical. Guatemala supports Taiwan’s right to self-determination and territorial integrity, and that is a good thing. All people have the right to determine their future. That same Guatemala denies Belize’s right to self-determination and territorial integrity. In one breath Guatemala condemns Mainland China for its aggression, and in the next breath Guatemala behaves like the bully it condemned.

The fact is that Guatemala has never occupied Belize, and since 1859 Guatemala has known exactly where their border ends, and ours begins. In the south, it is the mid-channel of the Sarstoon.

A very bad weed story

The story—unwitting children and adults eating their fill of marijuana “confectioneries”, probably didn’t make world headlines because no one died. The incident was traumatic, since some of the victims were hospitalized and concern remains over the potential long-term harm done physically and mentally, but it is the greatest news that no one succumbed. The likely reason that no one died, and that none might suffer permanent physical injury, is that weed is one of the least potent drugs that people are likely to come in contact with.

A graph in the story, “Can You Overdose on Weed, Marijuana or THC?”, which was written by Kenneth Anderson and published by American Addiction Centers at the website rehabs.com, shows that in 2014 around 18,000 people in the US were killed by prescription opioids, 11,000 by heroine, 8,000 by benzodiazepines, 5,000 by cocaine, 4,500 by antidepressants, 2,100 by alcohol, 800 by Tylenol, and 250 by cannabis. The story noted that the majority of deaths involved drug mixing, but looking at deaths where cannabis alone was present there were 18 deaths caused by the drug in 2014.

One of the arguments made against marijuana is that it is a gateway drug. The main anti-marijuana lobby approaches the drug in the same way it approaches homosexuality, which is that if you give an inch, the “enemy” will want a yard. Legal or illegal, some youth will try marijuana products, just as they do alcoholic drinks, and that’s not a surprise to anyone in Belize. UNICEF says ”over half (54 percent) of Belize’s boys aged 15-19 report consuming alcohol” and “almost 20 percent had their first drink before they were 15, often with their parent or other care-giving adult’s permission and/or encouragement.”

Some would want Belize to be like Singapore, where a 22-year-old man went to the gallows, had his life snuffed out, for a couple pounds of cannabis. Singapore’s Central Narcotics Bureau says they are about a drug-free society, not a drug-tolerant one. And they do have some success with their mission. Drug users in Singapore have nowhere to hide. It is a small island, less than 1/30th the size of Belize. And they don’t entertain many tourists, that industry making up just 4% of their GDP.

Belize is a tolerant country, very “live and let live.” We don’t even hang for murder! The anti-marijuana lobbyists beat the drum for the time when weed was entirely illegal. There were no weed gummies packaged like children’s confectionery then. That is entirely a North American concoction. But weed smokers in Belize, who risked jail and a damning lifelong police record if they were caught with a single cigarette, some of them did, wrongly, make and offer weed-laced fudge and brownies to adolescents.

The anti-marijuana lobby says that the only way to keep the drug away from children is to make it illegal. They argue that since the decriminalization of 10 grams in 2017, marijuana use has increased significantly among adults, children, and youth, but that is conjecture; no studies have been done to support that.

Legalize it, locally

The GoB can’t be faulted for seeing marijuana as a new growth industry to fight the world’s worst scourge, poverty. Since the US, in a number of states, and Canada have relaxed their laws on recreational marijuana, there has been a burgeoning trade in those countries and in some other parts of the world. How quickly the North Americans went from smoking weed to hybridizing the plant to make it produce more of the hallucinogenic drug, and making edibles.

The trade of marijuana existed in the US and Canada long before they relaxed control of it. The hottest story right now in US states where it is legal, is that the government’s tax cut is too much of a drain on profits, so sellers who once sold illegal marijuana, and who then started selling legal marijuana, are once again involved in underground sales. Children’s access to marijuana edibles is also a concern.

Prohibition is proven a hundred times over to make no sense. Our GoB patterned its laws to control marijuana off foreign models, and legalized it only to put it on hold after a blowback from the anti-marijuana lobby. The present state is confusion. The decriminalization law could not have been seen as something permanent. As it stands, everything marijuana is illegal in Belize. But you’re allowed to have 10 grams in your possession. Is a weed fudge or brownie illegal if you have it?

Belize needs to legalize it, locally. We can wait for the time when the banks have no trouble handling the proceeds from the marijuana trade before proceeding with a full-blown industry. What we need to do now is regulate sales of the product, stop importing marijuana, control the quality of what is grown and sold in Belize, educate our people, and stiffen the laws to protect our children and youth and persons who are sickened by the scent of it.

We need to establish public areas where smoking is allowed. The “ragamuffin bleachers” at the MCC has for years been the domain of weed smokers, but other bleachers must remain off limits. Smoking in or near an official church should carry the stiffest penalties. Belizeans would go as far as supporting the death penalty for anyone who introduces marijuana to kids and adolescents. But we don’t have to go to that extreme. Stiff penalties and education will do.

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