Marijuana, its de-criminalization or possible legalization, and the possible health issues and legal fallout were the hot topics of discussion when the CARICOM’s Regional Commission on Marijuana hosted a series of national consultations in collaboration with the Attorney General’s Ministry of Belize at Best Western Biltmore Plaza Hotel in Belize City on Thursday, November 23.
Professor Rose Marie Belle Antoine of the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies chaired the focus group discussions. Three other members of the Regional Commission and two representatives from the CARICOM Secretariat were also in attendance. They sought input from youth groups and young community leaders in the first session to which they invited the students from high schools,junior colleges and tertiary level institutions as well asyoung people already out-of-school, and agencies working with youth.
The input ofreligious leaders and representatives of non-governmental organizations was invited at the second focus group later in the morning. The National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) had already made their disapproval of derminalization well known at a media briefing a month ago, and NEAB President Lance Lewis and Pastor Scott Stirm reiterated their position. Proponents of legalization like Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn and news personality YaYa Marin Coleman also aired their views.
They also heard contributions in a third session from medical doctors, researchers, alternative medicine practitioners, advocates of medical marijuana, as well as from National Drug Council, law enforcement officers and legal attorneys.
The general public and all other interested parties were also invited to contribute their opinions at a Town Hall meeting held at the Tapir Room of Biltmore later Thursday evening after 5 o’clock.
The CARICOM representatives sought to get Belizeans’ views on the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use, with a view to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana. The commission will subsequently collate their findings into a final report, which they will submit to the CARICOM Heads of Government at their next meeting. In the event that cannabis is re-classified, this input would also recommend the legal and administrative conditions that should apply.
Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte was quite optimistic about the outcome of the consultations, saying the legislation to de-criminalize marijuana has been a tremendous success, and that his ministry would be putting forward these view to the commission; even though Belize had sort of pre-empted CARICOM in moving to de-criminalize cannabis before the rest of the region had decided on the issue. He said the transition after de-criminalization of possession of less than 10 grammes of marijuana is going quite smoothly in Belize; the world had not come to an end as a result. Adult marijuana consumers have been doing so responsibly, and so have not attracted any legal consequences. He admitted his ministry is still in the process of putting in place to deal with those who fall through the cracks in the system, and writing the regulations governing the use of marijuana within this legal limit, and how it will affect young people who may wish to smoke marijuana, but will not be allowed to, by law.
He also expressed the hope that by the time CARICOM is ready to follow suite with de-criminalization and/or legalization, that Belize will have in place a well-drafted set of regulations governing marijuana use, which we may then put forward to CARICOM as a model draft, which other territories may imitate and tweak to suite their individual territory’s needs.
Peyrefitte said the discussions do not end at Thursday’s forum, but that the public would be invited to continue to discuss the issue and to submit their views to his office, since the Solicitor General’s office specifically has a Crown Counsel assigned to the matter to serve as a liaison to the CARICOM regional commission, to submit further contributions and comment. He emphasized that cultivation and trafficking of quantities of marijuana remains illegal, and that government is not encouraging anyone to grow marijuana. He said, “we’re not there yet, but who knows, we may get there, depending on how we handle it.