A bill in the Central American nation of Belize that allows for the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana without criminal penalty was signed into law yesterday by the Governor General.
The legislation was originally introduced in August by the Belizean government and allows for monetary fines instead of prosecution and criminal records. The Belize Misuse of Drugs Act originally called for anyone in possession of marijuana to be criminally charged, but the new amendment allows for no criminal charges for under 10 grams.
The bill came forward with significant debate from senators over the last few months, with one senator, Osmany Salas, stating countries that have decriminalized marijuana usually provide drug abuse counselors for youth. Salas added that Belize currently does not have adequate rehab facilities to support decriminalization. There were other senators, however, who felt the decriminalization of marijuana couldn’t come soon enough.
“I think it would be naïve for us on this side of the honorable house to feel that smoking weed is not prevalent in our society,” said Opposition Leader John Briceno on Oct. 20 when the House officially passed the bill. “Probably most of us in the room had, at one time, probably taken a little smoke. We strongly believe the time has come [for decriminalization].”
Religious groups in the Central American nation voiced their opposition to the change in the law, calling the legislation rushed. “We feel that legalizing, even in a small amount, it’s a step in the wrong direction as it will now allow more persons to be involved in this trade,” said Pastor Lance Lewis, president of the National Evangelical Association of Belize.
Other than mild cannabis reforms in Costa Rica, Central America has been slow to adopt a new attitude toward the plant. This apathy for decriminalization or even legalization persists despite significant shifts in cannabis policy in the Caribbean and South America.
Photo courtesy of Prayitno