Apart from debating the budget, the Senate met in Belmopan to consider several pieces of draft legislation that were passed on Friday night by the House of Representatives.
The biggest one coming out of the chamber was the Senate debate on the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill of 2022.
That's the new bill that was crafted by the Briceno government to establish a local cannabis and hemp industry that can be regulated and eventually taxed. It was created after the government took on board the views and concerns about the original version Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which has been amended since it was first tabled last year.
Of important note, is that this law would legalize marijuana consumption for ADULT USE ONLY.
Among other things, the Cannabis Bill contemplates the creation of a Cannabis Control Commission, a Central Nursery, a Cannabis Program Identification Card, a Cultivation License, a Processing License, a Delivery License, a Dispensary License, a Private Label Brand License, a Restaurant Consumption Lounge License, a Security Provider License, and a Social Equity License.
This part of the debate is continuing at this time, but we've put together a small excerpt of the views shared. Here is that part of the Senate Meeting:
Senator Eamon Courtenay - Leader of Government Business
"Clause 5 is an important provision. Every person who desires to possess cannabis for personal use shall apply to the Commission for a Cannabis Program Identification Card. Right now cannabis can be kept for personal use. There's no law requiring an identification card, and the intention here is to regulate, even the possession of cannabis for personal use. Clause 5.2, an application for a cannabis ID card, the person must be at least 21 years of age. That is to ensure that there are - as best as possible when it's regulated - it doesn't get into the hands of children. Obviously, it's no guarantee, but it is an attempt by the law to say that it is 21 years and older who will be lawfully allowed to possess cannabis. And it sets out, Madam President, the other prescribed documents that must be presented, and the fee for that ID card. Similarly, Madam President, clause 6 sets out that for the commercial growing of cannabis plants, an application has to be made to the Commission for a license. What is important, Madam President and Members of the Senate is clause 3, which sets out that the Commission shall grant a license if the applicant is 21 years and older. At least 30% of the shareholders are citizens of Belize. So, it is important that there be Belizean participation in this new growth industry. It goes on to provide, Madam President, that the applicant, to the satisfaction of the Commission, provides information required in subsection 2, which sets out all the things that must be set out, and after conducting background and Interpol checks, the applicant and all interested parties do not have a criminal record."
Bishop Alvin Benguche - Church Senator
"No matter how many consultations are held, in so far as the church is concerned, this is not the direction in which we should be going at this time."