By Benjamin Flowers
After years of research and consultation, the Government of Belize is preparing to amend the laws of Belize to decriminalize marijuana.
Cabinet has handed recommendations made by the Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee, over to the office of the Attorney General for the legislative amendments to be drafted.
Douglas Singh, DOMC chairman, told the Reporter on Thursday evening, that the committee contacted the government to inquire where they were in considering the recommendations the committee had submitted in its report last year.
Singh explained that GOB, for the benefit of current ministers who were not a part of Cabinet at the time the report was initially submitted, gave the report another review and accepted the recommendations therein.
“There were some recommendations relative to fines…these things sometimes have conflicts so they will have to look at certain areas and elements but in principle the government has embraced the concept of decriminalization,” Singh said.
He added that, to his knowledge, none of the recommendations were subject to change. Some of those recommendations, however, require structures which are not yet in place in Belize.
In March 2015, the DOMC presented its’s report to Cabinet, concluding a process started in 2012 by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The Committee tabled 11 recommendations including: that it not be a criminal offense for anyone to be found in possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and that there be an amendment to the “Misuse of Drugs Act” to remove the word cannabis as one of the listed substances.
The Committee also recommended that there be no incarceration for up to 10 grams and that instead, a ticket be issued as well as mandatory drug education counseling plus a fine of $15 per gram and community service, rehabilitation and treatment.
The National Drug Abuse Control Council, when consulted by the DOMC, opposed the decriminalization until those rehabilitation facilities were in place and an established drug court system could be implemented to deal with offenses that would occur under the new amendments.
The Committee also advocated for the removal of a criminal penalty for the use of paraphernalia, including pipes and other products, in relation to the use of cannabis.
If GOB proceeds with all the recommendations of the DOMC, everyone who has been arrested for offenses under the amendment will retroactively have their criminal records expunged of those charges.
Decriminalization is where governments remove prison sentences from an offense, and replace it with lesser penalties. Decriminalization is not to be confused with legalization, where an action ceases to be an offense under the law.