ST JOHN’S, Antigua,CMC – The Antigua and Barbuda government is likely to follow Belize and allow for a debate on the decriminalisation of marijuana, National Security Minister Dr. Errol Cort has said.
Speaking on a local radio programme here on Monday, Cort said there were strong arguments in favour of changing the existing laws and would welcome a debate on the matter.
“I am aware however there is a push in various quarters to decriminalise marijuana. Persons have made the argument that there is medicinal usage from marijuana (and) others have said marijuana is part of a whole religious (entity) especially from the Rastafarian movement.
“Therefore from that standpoint one should at least legalise or de-legalise use of marijuana by persons who are using it as part of their religion. So I am aware of those various arguments,” Cort told radio listeners.
He said another set of arguments indicate that notwithstanding the facts about marijuana, the illegal drugs trade continue to flourish.
“So there are very strong arguments in respect of this matter and I certainly have a very open mind and would say, I would be willing to listen to those various arguments.”
But he warned that any change to the existing laws would only come following widespread public consultation.
“I do have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that the law is enforced and enforced at all times. Certainly if one is going to change the position it would be a change in policy and that would be done byu the government after widespread consultations with various interest groups.
“So certainly those who are making the point in terms of de criminalising marijuana for medicinal purposes then certainly one would want to present the facts justifying the arguments and so forth and I am aware that is being decriminalised in a number of states in the United States but certainly one would want to look at the facts.
“I am concerned because i see many folks out there who are victims from the use of marijuana and other drugs. It concerns me moving along those lines we might be adding to a destruction of society rather than building society,” he added.
The Belize government is exploring the possibility of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana by residents of this Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
A statement issued by the Ministry of National Security said that a special committee has been appointed to receive comments and suggestions from the general public, and to further inform government on proceeding to introduce legislation to parliament that relax Belize’s illicit drugs laws to would allow Belizeans to possess up to 10 grams of marijuana without being subjected to legal prosecution.
Currently, the laws of Belize make it illegal to possession marijuana in any amount, an offence punishable by a fine of up to BZ$50,000 (One Belize dollar=US$0.51 cents) and the possibility of being incarcerated for a period of up to three years.