By Benjamin Flowers
The National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB), this week, declared that it does not support the government of Belize’s decision to decriminalize marijuana.
Pastor Lance Lewis, NEAB president, said that decriminalization was a major topic of discussion at the Association’s Annual General Meeting which gathered over 250 church leaders in Belmopan on Monday.
Lewis said that while the church supports the idea of expunging the records of people convicted of small amounts of marijuana, the Association feels that Belize does not have the necessary facilities and policies in place to support decriminalization.
“There needs to be rehabilitation programs,” Lewis said, “there needs to be support systems in place to rehabilitate such persons who have been convicted of possession to keep them away from it.”
Pastor Scott Stirm added that from a behavioral standpoint, lowering the penalty on possession of marijuana might actually encourage more people to use the substance, and put themselves at greater risk of violating the laws.
In January, the Government of Belize announced that it has accepted the recommendations for decriminalization, from the Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee, commissioned by Prime Minister Dean Barrow in 2012.
The Cabinet announced that it has handed the recommendations to the office of the Attorney General, to draft the necessary amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, to lessen the penalty for those found with10 grams of marijuana or less.
The committee recommended that there be no incarceration for up to 10 grams and that instead, a ticket be issued as well as a mandatory drug education counseling plus a fine of $15 per gram and community service, rehabilitation and treatment.
The National Drug Abuse Control Council has yet to make a statement on the issue.