By Michelle Sutherland
A total of 15,000 Belizeans have signed a petition asking the Government of Belize to consider holding a referendum to ask Belizeans to decide on whether or not they agree with the legalization of marijuana in Belize, NEAB’s Pastor Louis Wade told the Reporter Friday.
Wade also opined that the speed at which citizens are willing to sign the petition should communicate Belize’s views on the referendum. “Actually, just the number of votes that came in within a short period of time should inform the government to hold back on the legislation,” Wade said.
The NEAB member also referenced the results of a poll being conducted by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). “I have seen the results, for example, of the Chamber’s poll,” Wade added. “They don’t look good. I think only 37 percent are saying ‘yes’ to legalization. But another 50 percent say ‘no,’ with another 13 percent ‘neutral’ on the matter.”
Citing the BCCI’s results, Wade stressed that this supports NEAB’s point. “The BCCI’s results show the split. And that is what we have been saying. The nation is split.”
The BCCI’s survey also asked respondents if they support a referendum, to which 65 percent of the respondents said they support the matter being put to a referendum. “That question, in my opinion, is even more important than the ‘legalization’ question,” Wade enthused. “I believe in democracy. That second question does not test the marijuana issue. That second question tests an even more important issue: Whether or not people should have a voice.”
The petition, which was launched two weeks ago by the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB), the Belize Council of Churches, and several other church bodies across the country, was distributed in schools, homes, businesses, and churches, and even on the streets. The aim of the petition is to garner at least 19,000 signatures, which is representative of 10 percent of registered voters necessary to trigger a referendum under the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize.
Last Tuesday, following the counting of the signatures, NEAB sent out a press release outlining the results:
“In only six days, 70% of the required petitions to trigger a Referendum have been collected. To God be all the glory! It's a Miracle to have reached 13,000 plus signatures in just 6 days, never before attempted, much less accomplished.”
But while NEAB was not successful in meeting its goal of 19,000 signatures, NEAB’s Vice President Pastor Scott Stirm told the Reporter last Tuesday that the outcome is an “amazing effort and success” and, according to him, in the majority of the locations across the country almost 95 percent of persons, who walked by, stopped in to sign the petition calling for a referendum. Something which he says is quite extraordinary.
Stirm remained optimistic that they will get the requisite number of signatures. “We did 13,000 in six days; I think we should be able to do it.”
The petition for a referendum is in relation to the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill 2022, which passed both the House and Senate recently. The Bill seeks to provide for the control and licensing of the cannabis industry in Belize, by establishing the necessary legislative framework to govern and regulate the cultivation, processing, distribution, and delivery of cannabis products for adult use, was to officially be signed into law on Monday, April 11th the Governor-General H.E. Froyla Tzalam. The last known petition of this nature to have occurred in Belize was in February 2012 when 18,000 people signed a petition to trigger a referendum on offshore drilling. The official referendum, however, did not happen, as the Election and Boundaries had rejected 8,000 signatures on the grounds that they did not match what was in their records.
We asked Wade as to their strategy if history repeats itself. He informed that NEAB is conducting its own verification and quality-control processes to minimize the likelihood of this present petition suffering the same fate as Oceana’s did close to a decade ago.