The Ministry of Health was forced to respond yesterday, Wednesday, to the surfacing in the public domain of three letters that were written by the Minister of Health, Hon. Pablo Marin, area representative of Corozal Bay, to potential investors for marijuana and hemp farming in Belize.

Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, recently called for Belize to explore the potential legalization of marijuana, but his call was sharply criticized by the government in a press release and this was followed by the harsh criticism by the Prime Minister Dean Barrow at his press conference on Monday, when he poured scorn on Briceño’s call for legalizing marijuana.

As it turned out, however, Health Minister Marin had been entertaining the idea of medical marijuana even before government decriminalized 10 grams of marijuana in November 2017.

In a letter dated February 10, 2016, addressed to Zev Ben Yosef, in care of Robert Peyrefitte, 9 North End Estate, Belize City, Marin wrote: “I write to confirm that on Friday, February 5th, 2016, a meeting was held in Belmopan between the Minister of Health. Hon. Pablo Marin, former CEO in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Allen, yourself, Mr, Zev Ben Yosef, local entrepreneurs, Mr. Robert Peyrefitte and Mr. Moises Zaldivar. Our meeting briefly considered the proposed establishment of a cannabis farm for growing, extracting and developing cannabis seeds for medical application along with associated research and development for national and international considerations.”

Marin’s letter added, “The Ministry of Health is supportive of such a concept in principle, while recognizing the need for a public information component within any such proposal. The ministry recognizes and supports potential benefits in terms of investment and employment opportunities while emphasizing the need for consulting with and informing the Belizean people about the relative merits of such a proposal.”

Marin’s second letter was dated 14th October 2017, and addressed to Mr. Marco Caruso, Placencia Village, Stann Creek District.

“The Minister of Health hereby expresses his support for development of commercial production of hemp in the Stann Creek District,” Marin’s letter begins.

The letter went on to say that the support is contingent on the following conditions:

1. “The product can only be exported internationally to a company holding the relevant state license and approvals;

2. “The processing plant and the culture of the hemp plants will be in accordance with the laws of Belize.

3. “The entire proposed land must be secured and properly fenced;

4. “Marco Caruso must guarantee that the operation will be conducted in accordance with the Laws and Regulations of the Government of Belize.”

Another similar letter was written to Pharmpro Ltd., Placencia Village, Stann Creek District, on 11th November 2017.

From the contents of the letter dispatched by the Minister of Health, it appears that that Ministry has been forging ahead with plans for medical marijuana and hemp.

However, GoB says that is not so. On the heels of GoB’s condemnation of the comments by the Leader of the Opposition, and the airing of the letters, the Ministry/Minister of Health made an attempt, via a press release, to clarify what was stated in the minister’s communications.

The press release states: “The Ministry of Health takes this opportunity to clarify misinformation being spewed by the opposition regarding two letters signed by the Minister of Health Hon. Pablo Marin in support of two proposed investments to grow cannabis for medicinal and other purposes. Although marijuana comes from the cannabis plant, not all cannabis is considered to be marijuana. Marijuana contains the chemical compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which has psychoactive or mind-altering properties. Marijuana was not considered at any point in the letters signed by Hon. Pablo Marin.

“In the letter addressed to Mr. Zev Ben Yosef, dated 10th February 2016, there was no mention made of the cultivation of marijuana. The meeting was centered on cannabis farming for the purpose of medicinal use as research has proven that Cannabidiol (CBD), derived from the cannabis plant, can be beneficial for the treatment of cancer and other ailments. It was specifically noted that any psychoactive component of the plant would be removed.”

The Ministry of Health’s press release seems to be attempting to differentiate between marijuana and cannabis, and argues that the Minister of Health did not consider marijuana at any point in his letters.

However, during an interview this week, Minister Marin admitted to 7News’ Jules Vasquez that Cabinet was not aware of the proposals in the letters he wrote, in relation to marijuana and hemp projects in Belize.