The decision by Government to decriminalize possession of ten grams or less of marijuana, after nearly five years of waiting, enjoyed rare bipartisan support. This is because of the level of devastation police arrests and convictions have caused, especially on Belize City’s south side. Since the first of November, things have been calm, with police making fewer drug-related arrests and the city and nation generally tranquil. News Five looked at the reaction since the decriminalization was passed and as Aaron Humes reports, users feel this is just the start.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
During the consultations held nearly two weeks ago by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana, participating youths noted with a mix of relief and trepidation the more relaxed stance taken by police since the introduction of decriminalization of possession of ten grams of marijuana or less.
“It must be a relief for you as a smoker to not have to worry that police will run up on you, arrest you and charge you for that?”
Theodore Andrews, Marijuana User
“I done see that they legalize it and thing, but I still move round the same way; I noh ride round with that. I smoke at home.”
Joshua Hyde, Marijuana User
“I actually like it now because lately I was charged for a little less than ten grams, and ten grams is a little; and I was charged already for that. Now I feel a relief right now because they won’t charge me for that again right now.”
Their sentiments are echoed by persons who have spoken with famous basketballer and noted marijuana activist and user himself, Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn.
Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn, Marijuana Activist and Researcher
“Just before I got here, an hour ago, I spoke with a friend of mine, who in their yard you have at least three different people selling marijuana – that’s fifty dollars Belize or less worth of marijuana. And they told me that before the decriminalization law was passed, the police used to come there and harass them two, three times a month and every day they would pass three, four times a day – vehicles full of police. But since the law was passed, the police hasn’t stopped by, and they don’t see the police vehicles filled anymore and now and again a police vehicle would go by with two police doing their routine patrol. Also there is less tension in the yard – the kids are not scared of the police anymore, like they used to be, because even they realize that a change has taken place.”
The marijuana thaw has even extended to the courts, where cases of simple possession and even trafficking have seen a sharp reduction in the past month. But Lightburn says there is much further to go, especially as regards a change in thinking.
Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn
“In Belize, when we get a picture of a marijuana smoker, we see two little black boys on the Southside; two bad boy di smoke weed. When you go to the States, da lone white-head lee old lady you see going into the pharmaceutical place where they sell marijuana and what they are doing is they are replacing all these drugs with side effects that used to kill them with marijuana which heals them. I think we are nit-picking. As far as marijuana goes, I’ve never been to – and I have a lot of friends that smoke marijuana – and I’ve never been to a friend of mine’s funeral and they said, ‘Boy, that man dead because he smoke too much weed.’ For example, the great Paul Nabor – he died when he was eighty-five years old. And he was the Buye, the healer; he was the man who took you to meet your ancestors when you died. He played for nine nights, the guitar; he played from sunset to sunrise and sang at all the funerals of the people. And he told me that when he did that, from sunset to sunrise, all he did was smoke marijuana and drink water.”
Like most we have spoken with, Lightburn urges moderation and a proper understanding of the properties marijuana has. He also acknowledges the geo-political reality – after a mass spraying of paraquat in the 1980’s, the Belize marijuana trade gave way to imported varieties from Mexico, especially after the U.S. market collapsed when the decriminalization and legalization movement went there. But the churches’ opposition notwithstanding, what happens next? Lightburn predicts a “chill-out” for the next few months but expects party political support as general elections come around the corner.
Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn
“I think it’s something that won’t be addressed again until the general election, just because of the way things are done in Belize, even though it’s urgent. Most countries, I know that once they start the decriminalization – like for example Jamaica, it’s only been two years since they decriminalized and they are already starting legalization. I personally don’t believe we are going to get that done or have a discourse about that until close to the next general election.”
“So you expect it may be a part of some political party’s platform?”
Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn
“It definitely will be. Look at how big it was this year. And I would say ninety percent of youths calling for decriminalization, also want legalization.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
Lightburn noted that Canada, a cold-weather country where marijuana use is legal, is funding research in Jamaica related to cannabis while the United States has been doing its own.