The Dean Barrow government had in August piloted the amendment to the legislation that also provides for monetary and non-recordable penalties for possession on school premises and in specified circumstances makes smoking on private premises no longer an offence.
The Bill had been referred to the Health and Human Development Committee of the House and Prime Minister Barrow said then it was just the beginning.
“I am excited; clearly it is only a first step and a small step, and I know there will be the naysayers; I suspect we are going to hear from the churches. But I feel as both a matter of conviction that it is something good to do, but also that the society as a whole will support it,” he said.
When the matter came up for debate on Friday, Opposition Leader John Briceño said his difficulty with the current legislation is that it stops at decriminalisation.
“I feel it would have been better if we had done all the studies and made the preparations to go even further, and move toward the legalization of marijuana. While I respect the opinion of those who are against this, I believe that there are numerous benefits to legalizing the use of marijuana in small quantities.
“In addition to the popular argument which some members of the House have made and people like Jeremy Spooner have been pushing on numerous Facebook fan pages and other compelling arguments to change the way we think about marijuana.
“For example, studies have proven that adults who smoke weed lose weight, they can keep in better shape, they have a smaller waist size; they are better [with] insulin levels! (Laughs) I won’t say names but they will be…slim, trim and fit,” Briceno told legislators.
Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Erlington said that the euphoria induced by marijuana is false, but that the bill does offer true relief.
“Its main effect really is to induce a false and unrealistic sense of contentment. In other words, people who smoke it seem to feel contented and people who are contented don’t normally give trouble,” he said, noting that “ this has been a piece of legislation that has been really oppressive really to the poor”.
Erlington said that poor people used to be hiding these little bit of marijuana in the clothes of their children.
“The record seem to suggest that the consumption of marijuana and the addiction to it really is a medical problem and in this day and age we know that many of these people have these allergies and you don’t punish them more, you try to furnish the with provision for overcoming it,” he added.
Minister of State, Elodio Aragon Junior, said amendment will be significant for the hemp industry as this 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 genius cannabis sativa with a THC concentration of such amount as may be prescribes and as we all know the hemp industry is a vibrant industry that has great potential for Belize.
“I will also like, madam speaker, to highlight and state what this amendment will assist to do for Belize. One it will reduce the criminalisation of our young people especially the youths who smoke marijuana. It will also assist in the reduction of persons at our prisons ad 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 our budgetary resources that have to be allocated to ensure that these things are carried out,” he added.