Decriminalizing the weed in Belize 1

With  steady increase in use and a high number of people becoming criminals for simply possessing a stick of “herb” (notice that society does not really distinguish between the classes of criminals, they see criminals as criminals. Been to jail? You are a criminal.) and the large amount of money and man hours it takes to keep Marijuana illegal it only makes sense to decriminalize the thing.

Marijuana or Weed as it is locally known grows wild in Belize and for a long time has been used as remedies for several ailments including Joint Pain (soaked in green rubbing alcohol).

[pullquote align=”right”] It makes no sense for a young person who made the mistake of being caught with a small amount of marijuana to have to go through life with a criminal record.
– Douglas Singh[/pullquote]

Amending the law which makes marijuana use a crime will keep hundreds of people out of jail, a huge saving in public expenditure. Those funds can be put to better use. Finally, it would make citizens, who have the marijuana habit, rest easy and sleep well, knowing that they are no longer criminals.

The exact amount has not been agreed on as yet, but Singh said that he is looking at decriminalizing between 5 to 7 grams.

Here are some interesting bits of info for you:

  • In the 1980s, High Times Magazine dubbed marijuana that was being exported to the United States as “Belizean Breeze,” and in one of its issues, the magazine took issue with the then Manuel Esquivel government, because it had allowed the deadly herbicide, Paraquat, to be sprayed on Belize’s marijuana plantations.
  • Possession of under 60 grams of marijuana as a criminal offense and is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to three years imprisonment.
  • Cultivation carries a fine of $10,000 or three years imprisonment.
  • Weed goes from $5 US for 1/8 oz. to $15 US for a quarter pound–schwag.

Primary reasons in support of legalizing marijuana are:

  • Prohibition of marijuana is unwarranted government intrusion into individual freedom of choice.
  • Marijuana is no more harmful to a person’s health than alcohol or tobacco, which are both legal and widely used, and regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
  • Marijuana has proven medical benefits for cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other patients.
  • Crime and violence are greatly increased due to illegal selling and buying of marijuana. Legalization would logically end the need for such criminal behavior.
  • Drug busts of youth for marijuana offenses often carry harsh penalties that can cause undue social harm with lifelong consequences.
  • Marijuana is one of America’s top-selling agricultural products.

What’s the difference between Legalizing and Decriminalizing?

Remember, if this proposal actually gets passed, marijuana will still be illegal. The limited amount stipulated in the final documents will only decriminalize possession. So what is the difference you ask? Here goes:

[tabs style=”1″] [tab title=”Decriminalizing”]Decriminalization means that a specific activity (such as the possession of a small amount of marijuana) would be removed from the scope of the criminal courts, but would still be against the law. With decriminalization, the user would be prosecuted differently and an “alternative penalty”, such as a fine, would be the consequence.[/tab] [tab title=”Legalizing”]Legalization would involve the removal of legal penalties, although regulations and rules about production and distribution could still be developed and put into effect. [/tab] [/tabs]

What does this mean to me as a parent?

Whatever the legislation, teens have to make their own decisions about the use of marijuana. They have to weigh the pluses and minuses of marijuana use based on how it affects their own health, learning, safety and feelings. As well, they need to decide whether it is worth the risk to do something that is still illegal and can result in a penalty. As a parent, you need to communicate your concerns and expectations about the use of marijuana and other drugs and discuss your expectations and values with your child.

Decriminalization does not lead to greater marijuana use

Government studies conclude that marijuana decriminalization has had virtually no effect on either marijuana use or beliefs and related attitudes about marijuana among American young people in those states that have enacted such a policy.
REFERENCE: L. Johnson et al. 1981. Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980. Monitoring the Future, Occasional Paper Series: Paper No. 13. Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

Citizens who live under decriminalization laws consume marijuana at rates less than or comparable to those who live in regions where the possession of marijuana remains a criminal offense.
REFERENCE: E. Single et al. 2000. The Impact of Cannabis Decriminalization in Australia and the United States. Journal of Public Health Policy 21: 157-186.

There is no evidence that marijuana decriminalization affects either the choice or frequency of use of drugs, either legal (such as alcohol) or illegal (such as marijuana and cocaine).
REFERENCE: C. Thies and C. Register. 1993. Decriminalization of marijuana and demand for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. The Social Sciences Journal 30: 385-399.

States and regions that have maintained the strictest criminal penalties for marijuana possession have experienced the largest proportionate increase in use.
REFERENCE: Connecticut Law Review Commission. 1997. Drug Policy in Connecticut and Strategy Options: Report to the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Assembly. State Capitol: Hartford.

Rates of hard drug use (illicit drugs other than marijuana) among emergency room patients are substantially higher in states that have not decriminalized marijuana use. Experts speculate that this is because the lack of decriminalization may encourage the greater use of drugs that are even more dangerous than marijuana.
REFERENCE: K. Model. 1993. The effect of marijuana decriminalization on hospital emergency room episodes: 1975-1978. Journal of the American Statistical Association 88: 737-747 as cited by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, 103.

Criminal laws prohibiting marijuana possession do not deter marijuana use.

Marijuana use remains consistent despite a high level of enforcement, and there is no detectable relationship between changes in enforcement and levels of marijuana use over time.
REFERENCE: J. Morgan and L. Zimmer. 1997. Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence. The Lindesmith Center: New York, 46.

Marijuana users believe that their behavior will go undetected; thus fear of arrest is usually not a factor in people’s decisions whether or not to use it.
REFERENCE: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Working Group on Addictions. 1998. Cannabis Control in Canada: Options Regarding Possession. Ottawa.

Marijuana laws have no “specific” deterrent impact on drug taking behavior. Studies show that marijuana offenders continue to use marijuana after their conviction at rates equal to those prior to their arrest. No relation between the actual or perceived severity of their previous sentence and subsequent use has been found.
REFERENCE: P. Erickson. 1980. Cannabis Criminals: The Social Effects of Punishment on Drug Users. Addiction Research Foundation: Toronto.

In surveys, most individuals cite health concerns and family responsibilities rather than legal concerns as their primary reasons for ceasing (or never initiating) marijuana use.
REFERENCE: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM). 1982. Marijuana and Health. National Academy Press: Washington, DC.

A California police officer’s study concluded, “The reduction in penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use does not appear to [be] a factor in people’s decision to use or not use the drug.”
REFERENCE: California State Office of Narcotics and Drug Abuse. 1977. A First Report on the Impact of California’s New Marijuana Law. State Capitol: Sacramento.

Far more harm is caused by the criminal prohibition of marijuana than by the use of marijuana itself.

According to editors of the prestigious Lancet British medical journal: “The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. … It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat … than alcohol or tobacco.”
REFERENCE: Deglamorising Cannabis. 1995. The Lancet 346: 1241. Editorial. November 14, 1998. The Lancet.

According to a 1999 federally commissioned report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM), “Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications.”
REFERENCE: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM). 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 5.

The National Academy of Sciences further found, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
REFERENCE: National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM). 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press: Washington, DC, 6.

More than 76 million Americans have admittedly tried marijuana. The overwhelming majority of these users did not go on to become regular marijuana users, try other illicit drugs, or suffer any deleterious effects to their health.
REFERENCE: Combined data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1996. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Main Findings 1994. Rockville, MD and 1995. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Population Estimates 1994; Deglamorising Cannabis. 1995. The Lancet 346: 1241. Sydney Morning Herald, February 18, 1997.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 35 percent of adults admit to having tried marijuana. Of these, only 5 percent have used marijuana in the past year, and only 3 percent have used marijuana in the past month.
REFERENCE: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2000. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Table G.9. Percentages Reporting Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month Use of Illicit Drugs Among Persons Aged 26 or Older: 1999. DHHS Printing Office: Rockville, MD.

According to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: “Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private for personal use.”
REFERENCE: President Jimmy Carter: Message to Congress, August 2, 1977.

Convicted marijuana offenders are denied federal financial student aid, welfare and food stamps, and may be removed from public housing. Other non-drug violations do not carry such penalties. In many states, convicted marijuana offenders are automatically stripped of their driving privileges, even if the offense is not driving related.
REFERENCE: Section 483, Subsection F of the Higher Education Act of 1998; Amendment 4935 to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996; U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 1992. Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System. U.S. Department of Justice: Washington DC; NORML’s State Guide to Marijuana Penalties.

Under federal law, possessing a single marijuana cigarette or less is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine, the same penalty as possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine or crack.
REFERENCE: J. Morgan and L. Zimmer. 1997. Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence. The Lindesmith Center: New York, 42.

In several states, marijuana offenders may receive maximum sentences of life in prison.
REFERENCE: NORML’s State Guide to Marijuana Penalties.

A recent national study found that blacks are arrested for marijuana offenses at higher rates than whites in 90 percent of 700 U.S. counties investigated. In 64 percent of these counties, the black arrest rate for marijuana violations was more than twice the arrest rate for whites.
REFERENCE: J. Gettman. 2000. United States Marijuana Arrests, Part Two: Racial Differences in Drug Arrests. The NORML Foundation: Washington, DC.

The original article:

Belmopan, 16th July, 2012.

“A committee has been appointed by the Minister of National Security to evaluate and, if appropriate, make proposals for the decriminalization of the possession of small portions of Cannabis Sativa (commonly known as Marijuana and Weed).

“For the purpose of this exercise, the word decriminalization means that the treatment of the infraction will be adjusted so that most of the detriments are removed or reduced. The offense will then be subject to regulation which will allow for the implementation of probationary measures. It is also proposed that no criminal record be kept in the first instance and portions of the penalty be reserved for drug education.

“The current legislation treats the possession of under 60 grams of marijuana as a criminal offence and is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and/or up to three years imprisonment. This proposal is to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana which will then be subject to fines, mandatory drug education and no imprisonment.

This initiative is driven by increasing evidence that the current legislation clutters the courts and the prison with primarily a marginalized segment of our population. The added impact of a permanent criminal record further disadvantages this already marginalized group as it establishes a barrier against meaningful employment. The committee wishes to emphasize that the proposal is not to legalize the offence thereby purging it of all its penalties; it is merely to reduce and regulate. This is further supported by international trends towards decriminalization.

“The Committee recognizes that the instant proposal for the decriminalization of small quantities of Marijuana is a sensitive issue. All interested groups and individuals are hereby given an opportunity to express their views on the matter. The committee
invites you to offer a position in writing by letter or email. Please direct such correspondence to:

Douglas Singh – Committee Chair
# 1 Mapp Street
Belize City, Belize

“We would be grateful to receive your comments by Friday July 20. If you wish to make representation to the committee please indicate in your written response and we will be pleased to accommodate your request.”

Original Release


As the Bureau of Justice Statistics notes:

An alternative view of the relationship between drugs and crime holds that drug use does not directly cause criminal behavior, but the same circumstances that might lead a person to begin committing crimes may also contribute to the development of drug habits. For example, social conditions, including poverty and discrimination, may limit opportunity and reduce an individual’s investment in society, leading to both drug abuse and criminal behavior. Also, some people enjoy taking risks and are willing, for whatever reasons, to violate laws or norms, or they seek possessions or experiences that are not available by legitimate means. The use of drugs, especially on a regular basis, may not occur among such persons until after they have begun a career of criminal activity. Drug use may thus be only part of a more general lifestyle that also includes other types of criminal activity…. For some prison inmates drug use began prior to other criminal activity and may have contributed, either by lowering inhibitions or by generating a need for money, to a developing criminal career. For many others, drug use, particularly regular use of a major drug, started only after their criminal careers had begun. (Innes, 1988)



Other members of the marijuana decimalization committee are Donelle Hawke and Rhea Rogers of the Ministry of National Security, C.B. Hyde, Susan Fuller, YaYa Marin-Coleman, Jeremy Spooner and Katie Valk, said ex-Minister Singh. He told us that two of the committee members are admitted marijuana users. The committee wrote two weeks ago to about 16 entities, including the Bar Association of Belize, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Council of Churches, and gave them until Friday, July 13, to provide feedback—but none has to date, said Singh.  The National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC) will be the likely entity to do the drug education program, and a portion of the fines levied for marijuana possession would be earmarked for that program. According to Singh, the marijuana decriminalization committee is about two months away from submitting its draft paper to Cabinet

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