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Second & Third Readings of Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2017 in House

Also in the House sitting today, government gave the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2017 its second and third readings. What that is, is the much discussed and debated decriminalization of the possession of marijuana in amounts not exceeding ten grams. Minister of State for Home Affairs Elodio Aragon provided more detail of the document.

Elodio Aragon – Minister of State for Home Affairs

“I just want to make it clear that this amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, is the mere possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana will no longer be a crime, in other words it will no longer be a criminal offence unless possession occurs on the premises of a school or other educational institution. Furthermore it remains a criminal offence to be in possession of over 10 grams of marijuana and offenders can be arrested, charged and tried in court and if found guilty sentence to a fine or imprisonment or both. The conviction will also be recorded on that person’s criminal act. This is a decriminalization of marijuana it is not a widespread open use of marijuana. In terms of smoking of marijuana smoking of marijuana where the amount in possession is more than 10 grams would no longer be a crime where it is done in the person’s own home or other specified accommodation with the owner’s permission. For these purposes the permitted premises for smoking will be the residence of the person concerned, a residence owned or lawfully occupied by another person and the activity is carried out with the consent of the other person. A hotel, lodging or other private sleeping accommodation for paying guests which also allows lawful smoking to be carried out. In every case smoking of marijuana would still be governed on the rules of possession of marijuana referred to what I just mentioned. Smoking of marijuana anywhere else is illegal. Furthermore I’d like to also highlight that this act, this amendment that is being made to the Misuse of Drugs Act as a result it will be significant for the hemp industry as the Misuse of Drugs Act bill will exclude industrial hemp from the definition of cannabis in the Misuse of Drugs Act so that the provisions that apply to marijuana will no longer apply to industrial hemp. Industrial hemp will be defined as any part of the plant of the genus cannabis sativa with a THC concentration of such amount as may be prescribed, and as we all know the hemp industry is a vibrant industry that has great potential for Belize. I would also like to highlight and state what this amendment will assist to do for Belize. One it will reduce the criminalization of our young people especially the youths who smoke marijuana. It will also assist in the reduction of persons at our prisons and it will also assist the entire criminal justice system ranging from the police to prisons and it would in effect create a cost saving in regards to arresting, sentencing and imprisonment which we all know comes with a budgetary resources that has to be allocated to ensure that these things be carried out. But most importantly I think this act will also allow for law enforcement personnel and the Ministry to focus and concentrate more on the serious crimes that are affecting and plaguing our societies and communities across this country. In these regards I do think and I support this bill and I’m glad that we have bipartisan support because this is an important step for our small country to move forward and I’d also like to mention that across the globe man countries based on studies have embraced this.”

Opposition Leader John Briceno was not opposed to the bill and he and Francis Fonseca provided their support.

John Briceno, Opposition Leader

“The opposition will support the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act for we strongly believe that the time has come, and has long passed when we should be locking up people especially young people for smoking a stick of weed. As for me, my difficulty with the current legislation is that it stops at decriminalization, I feel that it would have been better if we had done all the studies and made the preparations to go even further and move towards the legalization of marijuana.”

Francis Fonseca:

“There is also a lot of mi-information that has been given out to the Belizean people so I think it’s absolutely important that we make it clear from the outset that this bill does not legalize marijuana. First of all that is not at issue here at all and nobody at all is promoting or advocating the smoking of marijuana that is not the purpose of the bill, that is not the intention of the bill nor the subject of the bill. Nobody is promoting the smoking of marijuana. I smoke an occasional cigar but I don’t encourage anybody else to smoke cigars and the same with marijuana I’m not encouraging anybody else to smoke marijuana. It’s important also for people to understand that I think there is a concern out there that this will affect schools, the law specifically provides that persons at schools on school campuses and the adjoining properties around schools will not be allowed to be in possession of marijuana so the law specifically provides for schools to ensure that we are protecting the sanctity of school campuses. It provides for young people under 18 to get drug treatment and counseling.”