Tonight, government is under pressure from the churches, the unions, the opposition and secondary school principals who are all calling for a national referendum on whether Belize should legalize it.

The Minister of New Growth Industries has expressed his reluctance to put the matter to referendum because the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill has already been passed in parliament. He added that it would come at a major cost - in the millions of dollars.

Undaunted by such worldly considerations, the churches continue to collect signatures of Belizeans who want a referendum, and one of the most prominent to have signed is former Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

This afternoon, a copy of his signed petition, dated April 6, 2022, was circulated by NEAB. A few hours ago, Daniel Ortiz got a chance to discuss this and other topics with him in a sit-down interview. We asked about that petition, and he told us that it came to his attention as a parent during a meeting he'd had with the principal of SCA, where his daughter is a fourth former.

Here's what he told us about why he had no issue signing on to the referendum petition:

Dean Barrow - Former Prime Minister
"Mrs. Salome Tillett, who is one of the members of the Belize Association of Secondary Principals, is the principal of SCA. My daughter is graduating from SCA next month. I have great regard for Mrs. Tillett and she - I logged into a parent-teacher meeting that the school had in which she made a presentation -very impressed with the way she made her presentation - asking for support for the petition, making plain that it stops there. People who sign the petition for the referendum must not be taken as saying that when that referendum comes, we will vote no to legalization. All she, the churches, the unions, and the social partners are saying is, let us have a referendum so that the government can see how the people feel about this. And until that determination is made, don't sign the bill into law. So she indicated that she would be sending forms for parents to sign if they were persuaded by her arguments. And so, forms came to my home via my daughter. I was absolutely eager to sign. I made clear to Mrs. Tillett, as I made clear to some of the social partners, my reasons for wanting - for joining the chorus, demanding a referendum may be different from the reasons of the churches and of people like the good Mrs. Tillett You know. They have a moral problem with legalization, though I'm not going to say that they're wrong. I'm not going to say that they're right. For my purposes, I need not get into that."

And according to the former Prime Minister, he supports a referendum because, in his opinion, Belize should not move to full marijuana legalization at this time. Here's how he explained why:

Dean Barrow
"You can't legalize at this juncture if you're thinking properly, because you're talking about a market for export. According to the current prime minister, ‘Oh, we'll make millions of dollars. You can have no market access, certainly to the United States, which would be the biggest market. Your legalization, because in the absence of federal legalization of marijuana in the U.S., there are individual states that are doing it. They're running into trouble with banking. They have to hoard the money in vaults. Or there might be little special-purpose banks in which they put the money. But, they can't they can't transact banking business in the normal course. As long as that remains the case in the US, our banking system will have nothing to do with the proceeds of this so-called marijuana industry. It's bad enough that in any event, those that the government is setting up to participate in the industry are really the big players. Which small man has farmland or space on which to cultivate marijuana plants? So this is for the big boys, and the banks will not bank anybody involved in the trade in any way. I don't know how the big man will manage because what you're going to do with the money, I don't know how the government will manage, their taxing [of] the industry. They're the ones in control of the nurseries. They're the ones that will sell the seedlings. I don't know that the bank, the commercial banks, will agree to accept in government accounts any money that can be sourced to the marijuana trade. But I know for sure - I don't know about that. I know for sure the banks will not have anything to do with the producers, the consumers who are on record. And so where does that leave this? If the commercial banks will have nothing to do with it, the legalization is for naught because the industry will still have to be underground, operating in the dark - on a cash basis, which is the greatest spur and incentive to money laundering. So, Daniel, this is such a poorly conceived, poorly executed plan initiative on the part of the government. This cannot be done at this time without exposing the country to all sorts of difficulties."

Later on in the news, you'll hear his explanation about why he is claiming almost half-a-million dollars in damages against the government over the final report from the Marshalleck Commission of Inquiry.

Channel 7