This week all the talk in the news has been about PUP Leader, John Briceno's controversial suggestion to legalize marijuana, tax it, and export it.
The discussion on the topic has been lively - but the idea - as it has been presented - has raised some concern amongst an under-represented portion of the population. We're talking about the "Dur's". They are the middlemen who control the supply and sale of weed in neighborhoods, supplying rich and poor, working and unemployed. They liaise with the major dealers to source a steady supply of different grades of marijuana. It's an illicit product, so there are constant risks - but in his proposals Briceno suggested that the marijuana trade would be taken, quote, "out of the hands of criminals and put it in a place where it would benefit others."
Indeed, the Dur's are engaging in drug trafficking, but they are also indigenous Belizean businessmen and women whose trade has been outlawed by the state. If it is legalized - they fear that - under Briceno's proposal the trade would be taken out of their hands - and possibly put in the hands of the big money interests - including Chinese, Indians and the Mennonites who control much of the the retail market and agribusiness in Belize.
We got perspective on this from Port Loyola Rep., Anthony Boots Martinez - whose division has quite a few Dur's - and Briceno himself:..
Hon. Anthony "Boots" Martinez - Port Loyola
"You make it legal now, you will drive the man out of the market. Then the man will become criminal then. In my view. That is a tough situation to get into. Because you know if that happens, that will be a problem. I think then you will turn what you will deemed to be criminals now into real criminals, in my view."
"You repeated what you said in Canada, let us take it out of the hands of the criminals - the marijuana trade and put it in the hands of legitimate business interest which can be taxed etc. He was very disturbed to hear that, because he said okay, so now you want to take the marijuana that he has taken such great risk in making his livelihood and put it in the hands of Mr. Big Man X and Miss Big Woman Y and turn it into a legit business where he will be boxed out and he will be forced to become a greater criminal. Because then he will have to start to do other things to fight for control for what he has built a market for. How would you respond to that criticism?"
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"Bur here is the opportunity that he can become a legitimate business person. We are not talking about creating a monopoly for one, two or three people. No. We are talking about making it legal, but having the proper controls, so that we can ensure that young people don't have access it for instance, that the proper taxes are being collected, that the criminals are not out there shooting one another, because they are fighting for turf. All of this we expect that we could be able to address these issues and if that person that you spoke to, then there is an opportunity for him to become a legitimate business person."