People dry the leaf of the Cannabis sativa L plant, crush it and smoke it. They like how it makes them feel, so smoking marijuana usually becomes a habit, which is hard to break. Marijuana users do not become desperate for a “fix”. They do not commit crimes to get money to satisfy their habit. They are not prone to violence. Marijuana is classified as a depressant. Marijuana users do not hurt anyone by their action except, perhaps themselves but, they are criminals because, there is a law that it is a crime to manufacture, sell or use this substance. Should there be such a law? How did this law get on our books?

Laws are made for the Peace Order and Good Government, which includes “Public Health and Public Safety”. The law prohibiting marijuana should have been made in the interest of Public Health. But it was not. The law was made to stop the spread of its use from the East Indian Community (which introduced it) to the larger society in the colony of British Honduras.

In a modern state, such as Belize is now, to become law, a proposed measure has to go to a standing committee for examination and consideration, before it is reported back to the House to be debated and perhaps, amended. This process allows all interested parties to critique, comment and make recommendations for the House Committee to consider. In that way, what is finally put before the House has received the most thorough and careful appraisal to determine its merit. The law making process in a modern state, such as Belize is an exercise in democracy in order to discover whether a particular measure is supported by the people. Passing a law is a slow and complicated process, as it should be. Revoking a law is like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

It is not proposed to revoke the law prohibiting the use of marijuana in the accustomed way. What is proposed is that the law be revisited in the light of present conditions. Presently, there is a significant percentage of our population who smoke marijuana. These people are otherwise law abiding and productive. They continue to indulge their habits even though they risk going to jail. The majority of them are very discrete so that we haven’t had massive arrests and conviction for breaking the law. They are criminals, nonetheless. About 10% of the population of Belize City smoke marijuana i.e. 10% of 90,000 = 9,000. Do we want to put them in jail for daring to exercise what should be their right to indulge in an unhealthy habit? Don’t you think the state might be going too far in its desire to protect its citizens from their own folly.

I think it is time for us to reconsider this law and this time let us find out all that we need to know about the drug and the citizens who are using it, before we decide whether or not to change the law. I think the people who know the most about the drug, its effects, the number and type of persons who indulge, the frequency of use, the suppliers etc. etc. are the present and past users. Many citizens, who were users in their youth, stopped doing so when they became fully mature. You would be surprised to know that some very important persons once used the weed.

I think that there is a difference in the attitude of the populace toward this drug problem, according to the generation they belong to. For example, those 30 years and younger, who are not users, are tolerant of those who are. They think that they should be left alone. Those between 30 and 60 years think the law should be revisited. Those above 60 years feel that users are undisciplined and irresponsible and, if the law were enforced with rigor, they would see the error of their ways and rejoin the responsible citizenry. Please remember, I don’t claim to be an oracle.

I would like to relate a conversation I had with a young man, while waiting to be called in a doctor’s office, which is apropos. I consider everyone below 60 years to be young. We were talking about the measures that government is about to take to fight crime and he was critical of them. I told him that we can’t be sure of the results but I liked the idea of government undertaking initiatives. Then, I asked him, what one measure, that was doable, could have the greatest impact in reducing the crime rate. His answer was to give the gangs money because, if they had money, they wouldn’t have to commit crimes to get it. I wasn’t sure if he was serious. He seemed to be. I told him that decriminalizing marijuana use would have a transformational effect on the whole society. To begin with, those 9,000 citizens who use the drug will be relieved to know that they will not be targeted by the police. We could release the 100 or more citizens, who are serving time for possession. The police will have more time to pursue criminals who do real harm to society. It will have a positive effect on crime and criminals in ways that many occur to you. He agreed but pointed out that it was not double because, America would be offended and, the financial institutions, which give us aid in the form of loans at concessionary rates would no longer be cooperative. I told him we had to find a way to do it without offending America. I think there is a way.

In a democracy, the will of the people is the motive force for action by the government. In the matter of determining what the people would like their government to do about dealing with the use as of the marijuana drug, the government could conduct an exercise in the most basic form of democracy, which all democratic governments would have to respect.

It is proposed that the House of Representatives appoint a Select Committee to obtain, first of all, all the information that is available about the production, sale and use of marijuana in the country. This will require the cooperation of individuals, who are breaking or have broken the law, especially those who are incarcerated. There will have to be inducements. Secondly, there has to be public opinion surveys. Thirdly, after obtaining all the information, they should make a recommendation whether or not to put the question to the people.

The Committee’s finding of the facts, including the results of public opinion surveys, as well as their recommendations should be reported to the House for the question to be determined by resolution. The question would be “should the matter be put to the electorate to decide?” Assuming an affirmative vote, the electorate could be presented with a simple question on the ballot paper for the Belize City Council elections in 2012 – ‘Should citizens be allowed to have in their possession a quantity of marijuana (to be specified) for personal use. Yes or no?

If such a procedure was followed and the people voted in the affirmative, no democratic government could take offence, if government complied with the people’s will.