Police Minister wants to decriminalize marijuana
Saturday, 28.01.2012, 04:36pm (GMT-6)
Minister of Police & Public Safety Doug Singh
By Rowland A. Parks
Marijuana may soon be decriminalized in Belize and the strict penalty for being found with even small amounts of the drug may be greatly mitigated.
Minister of Police and Public Safety, Doug Singh, told The Reporter that the initiative is coming from his ministry, which is being assisted by a few persons outside.
The Ministry is currently preparing a paper that will be presented to Cabinet, Singh explained.
He said that in the first instance, his ministry is looking at decriminalizing a small quantity, and if Cabinet approves, police will no longer charge persons, who are found with the decriminalized amount.
The exact amount has not been agreed on as yet, but Singh said that he is looking at decriminalizing between 5 to 7 grams.
Singh reminded, however, that there is a difference between decriminalization and legalization, as he explained that it will not be a free walk in the park for those who are caught with that amount.
Singh said that persons who are caught with the specific decriminalized amount will be given a ticket to pay a small fine, but there will be no locking down of persons caught with a small amount of marijuana.
The Police Minister also added that after a certain period of time, persons who are charged criminally for marijuana will have their record wiped clean.
It makes no sense, Singh said, 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.
Nevertheless, until Singh gets his way, the Laws of Belize continue to be very clear when it comes to marijuana possession or cultivation: Cannabis sativa L, the scientific name for marijuana, is an illegal drug.
It is a criminal offence, if it is found in your possession. And, for even a very minuscule amount, you will be arrested, taken to court and charged a hefty fine, which if not paid, could land you directly in a prison cell.
But even if you don't go to prison after you have been found guilty, it is very likely that you would have a criminal record, which will follow you for the rest of your life.
But criminal offence or not, there has always been a robust marijuana business in Belize.
The drug is produced both for local consumption and for export.
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.
There have been many changes in the world as far as marijuana is concerned over the decades since the 1980s. Marijuana is now legal in several countries and in the United Sates of America, marijuana can legally be used for medical purposes in sixteen states.
So not only has marijuana gained ground legally in many places, but Hemp, the lower level of the said Cannabis Sativa L plant, has been recognized as the fastest growing biomass in the world, with China being a leading producer.
While all these changes are occurring in the wider world, Belize remains unchanged with its archaic marijuana drugs laws.
But, once the Minister of Police and Public Safety is able to convince the Cabinet of Prime Minister Dean Barrow that the move to decriminalize marijuana makes social sense, this gloomy picture may very well change.
That change would be welcome news to Mr. Charles Bartlett Hyde, a former Speaker of the House of Representative, and former Post Master General, who has written several articles in the Amandala newspaper, making compellingly persuasive arguments for decriminalizing marijuana.
Mr. Hyde told The Reporter that decriminalizing marijuana makes perfect sense.
"This is a good beginning," Hyde said.
Mr. Hyde explained that he believes marijuana should be decriminalized, because the people who smoke it are not violent and almost all of them are productive citizens in all classes of society. But they have one thing in common, they are law-breakers and criminals under the present laws.
The marijuana cultivation law which carries the same penalty as drug trafficking, a fine of $10,000 or three years imprisonment is draconian, Mr. Hyde said.
"The majority of people who smoke marijuana are doing it for recreational purposes and for relaxation," Mr. Hyde pointed out.
Mr. Hyde said that he applauds the Minister of Police for his initiative.