GOB moving closer to decriminalizing 10 grams or less of marijuana
Friday, March 13th, 2015
Even though it is illegal, the use of marijuana has been a part of the Belizean social fabric for decades and there is no indication that it is going to change anytime soon. For that reason, the Government of Belize (GOB), in March of 2012, tasked a group of Belizeans to work on a framework for the decriminalization of up to ten grams of marijuana, locally referred to as weed. The Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee (DOMC) presented the final report on February 26, 2015 in which it made a list of recommendations.
Ten grams of marijuana is equivalent to 0.35 of an ounce and according to the report, approximately 210 people are jailed annually for being with ten grams or less of the illegal herb. That alone, cited the report, is a burden not only for the taxpayers, but also consumes the court time and once found guilty, goes on the person’s criminal record. Because the amount is so minuscule, the DOMC indicated that after intensive consultation, a different approach than jailing someone for such quantity or less should be reconsidered. Chairing the DMOC is former Minister of National Security Doug Singh who indicated that while being in possession of ten grams or less would still be illegal, what is being worked towards is removing certain elements of the penalty.
According to Singh, while the general consensus is to charter a new way forward in dealing with people caught with ten grams or less of ‘weed,’ both ignorance and general misconception of the exercise led to some level of disapproval, especially by the religious sectors of the society. “We recognize on the onset when we announced the initiative that there was a misinterpretation of what the focus of the committee. People heard decriminalization, but really look at its removal of penalties as legalization. In some context it is also called de-penalization – removing the criminal penalties associated with it and we had to put some clarity on that. I am afraid that I don’t think we were very successful in doing so, because I think people still saw the exercise as legalization to a certain extent and I think some of the comments we had here today at the release of this document is reflective of that. There were people who felt we did not go far enough. At the same time though, I have to reflect the opinions of people who we interviewed, who felt that legalization is going too far.” According to Singh, the committee had the opportunity to speak to grass-roots people, those in the medical profession, research experts, legal experts, government agencies and the religious sector.
“It’s not a report to legalize marijuana. It’s not a report that makes any such recommendation. It’s a report that makes a recommendation to remove the criminal penalties associated with possession of a certain amount. Meaning that, if you have marijuana in your pocket and it’s under 10 grams and you are walking on the street, you are still breaking the law, but I can’t take you to jail for it and you would not get a criminal record as a result of being charged for it. It would be like a ticketing infraction. It’s quite similar in fact to what Jamaica has recently legislated. Its recognizing that it’s still not a legal activity, but there is no reason why people should go to jail for it and that was the impetus of the exercise… By way of comparison, I just like to mention that Jamaica’s parliament enacted into law the decriminalization of two ounces which is about 59 grams plus, which is essentially six times the volume in the document that we are recommending,” indicated Singh.
The DOMC made 11 recommendations which are as follows:
1. That it not be a criminal offense for anyone to be found in possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana and such individuals should be subject to administrative penalties as referred to in Section 2. The committee therefore proposes a change to the Misuse of Drugs Act, Chapter 103, revised edition 2000 with the removal of the word “cannabis” from Section 12 of the Act subject to section 51.
2. That in the decriminalization of the possession of up to ten grams of marijuana for private personal use there should be: (a) No criminal record for possession of up to 10grams of marijuana (b) No incarceration for possession of up to ten grams of marijuana, (c) Ticket issued with fines for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, (d) Administrative penalties for up to 10 grams of marijuana should be mandatory Prevention Drug Education and any or all of the following for: I – Fines of $15/gram found in possession with 2/3 of the fine going to the courts and 1/3 to NDACC to fund drug education. Increase penalty for repeat offenders and/or longer drug education programs, II – Prevention Education: Mandatory drug education for minors and their parents and/or guardians (juvenile offenders). III Community service- Community service for repeat offenders, IV – Rehabilitation (in‐patient as recommended by NDACC), V – Treatment (out‐patient as recommended by NDACC), VI – Restrictions of the possession and use around minors, schools, churches, public spaces, detention center and rehabilitation centers. Anyone in default of the satisfaction of administrative penalties is subject to contempt proceedings.
3. Possession should be clearly classified as custody and control of above ten grams to under 60 grams.
4. Private, personal use is limited to use inside private residences and cannot be of a reckless nature.
5. Revision of the Use of Drug Act to remove conflicts with these recommendations.
6. Revision of other sections of the Laws to amend and remove conflicts with these recommendations.
7. Removal of the criminalization of the use of paraphernalia in relation to the use of cannabis, for example, by amending section 51 A and B sub‐section (i) and (ii) with the removal of the word cannabis.
8. To introduce drug education into pre and post natal care education
9. To undertake an extensive drug educational campaign to sensitize and empower the public.
10. To amend the Misuse of Drugs Act, Chapter 103, revised edition 2000 to clearly define possession of marijuana as quantities greater than ten grams but less than 60 grams.
11. Expunge criminal records for persons who were found guilty of this offence retroactively.
The DOMC, in making its recommendation, took into consideration the nature of public opinion in Belize to the issue of the decriminalization of marijuana, medical and scientific researches as well as the legal aspects of de‐penalizing personal use of marijuana. Interesting to note in the report is the fact that in 1998, based on the United States International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 1997, Belize was classified as the “fourth largest producer of marijuana in the world, producing about 1,300 tons.”
In 1986, Belize gave in to U.S. pressure and aggressively took on a marijuana eradication exercise, followed by strict enforcement of marijuana laws. Prior to 1986, there was not much enforcement of the laws as it related to marijuana in Belize. In spite of laws and enforcement, marijuana continues to be widely used in Belize for recreational and medicinal purposes.
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