The Government of Belize (GOB), via a recently tabled amendment to the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2021, is seeking to free up the “supply side” of the recreational cannabis market in Belize.
The Ganja Card
Tabled before Parliament last Friday, the amendment, among other things, proposes to create a “Cannabis Program Identification Card” (dubbed here the “Ganja card”). This card is introduced at Section 8, which if passed, would now read:
“Notwithstanding sections 7 or 8, it shall not be an offence for a person to be in possession of cannabis or for a person to cultivate cannabis if that person is issued a Cannabis Program Identification Card or any licence under PART VIA.”
This represents a significant departure from the language of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2017, that had, inter alia, decriminalized the possession of ten grams or less. According to the new amendment, the Ganja Card would lift the previous limits up to “twenty-eight grammes of cannabis product at any one given time”.
Persons would have to apply for the Ganja Card. “Every person who desires to possess cannabis for personal use shall apply to the [Industrial Hemp and Cannabis Control Commission] for a Cannabis Program Identification Card.”
Once in possession of the Ganja Card, however, the new law would allow the holder to “purchase cannabis only from the Central Nursery or a dispensary licensed under section 49F”. Secondly, the person would not be allowed to “purchase more than two cannabis plants per household at any one given time”, and, as stated earlier, should “not be in possession of more than twenty eight grammes of cannabis product at any one given time.”
The new law would not permit the “Ganja Card” holder to “sell, distribute or otherwise transfer any cannabis in that person’s possession to any other person.” It does not permit the grouping together of cannabis plants with other persons “in a single location” for the purposes of forming “a business or for any other purpose”.
The law does go on suggest penalties for violation. It states: “(6) A person issued a Cannabis Program Identification Card who contravenes sub-section (5) commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars and a fine of five thousand dollars for any subsequent offence.”
The Restaurant Lounge License
The Ganja Card is only one of several new authorizations being inserted under the Amendment. One other license includes the “Restaurant Lounge License”.
If passed, the new section 49I of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment), would insert the following language into Belizean law:
“Every holder of a restaurant licence who desires to sell cannabis and infused cannabis food and drinks for consumption in a consumption lounge shall apply in writing to the Commission for a Restaurant Consumption Lounge Licence.”
Restaurateurs, therefore, would be able to expand their services into the recreational marijuana and food consumption markets. The law does place restrictions, however. The restaurateur, for example, would only be able to sell “cannabis to persons in possession of a Cannabis Program Identification Card”.
Additionally, there is also a two-hour time limit placed on how long someone could stay at the “weed lounge”. Additionally, the restaurant would not be able to sell cannabis products “during the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. of the following morning.” Finally, the restaurant would not be able to “sell to any one patron any food or beverage containing more than 20 milligrams of cannabis” within a “twenty-four [hour] period.”
Longstanding Ambition and other Licenses
The present amendment is a reflection of a longstanding ambition of the current administration, especially the current Minister of Home Affairs Hon. Kareem Musa, who has openly criticized the 2017 amendment and its regulations for having decriminalized possession (the “demand-side”, so speak), without addressing the “supply-side”.
Following the sitting of the House on Friday, the Minister for Home Affairs and New Growth Industry Hon. Kareem Musa explained that the amendment is an extension of the 2017 legislation that allows for the possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis.
“We will be allowing in this legislation home growing as well so that you, as an individual at home, can grow two plants. In terms of the commercialization and the industrial aspect of it, there will be various licenses included in this particular bill; there are cultivation licenses, manufacturing, and processing license, there is also consumption lounge license, etcetera,” explained Musa.
According to the Amend Act there are eight licenses that would be established under the new law: (i) Cannabis Unity Project Licence, (ii) Restaurant Consumption Lounge Licence, (iii) Cultivation Licence, (vi) Delivery Licence, (v) Dispensary Licence, (vi) Processing Licence, and (vii) Security Provider Licence.
In his comments, Musa also guaranteed that the amendment will include the incorporation of existing dealers and anyone interested in becoming involved in the trade. Additionally, Musa said that he is expecting that the amendment will be able to curb crime and even prevent gang warfare in the streets of Belize City.
The Ministry has also announced the merging of the Industrial Hemp and Cannabis Control Committee which will be tasked with issuing hemp and cannabis licenses as well as the proper zoning and regulation of both industries.
This week, Prime Minister John Briceño explained that the regulations will be guided by balanced and strict measures to ensure that criminals won’t take over the trade and that there is enough space for the big and little players, to benefit from this latest opportunity.
Briceño commented, “We do recognize that we cannot have marijuana plants all over the country with no control and that is something that the Ministry of New Growth Industries are working very hard as to how best we can control and at the same time allow for the small people to maybe have for their consumption. We also have to make sure that [first] the criminals do not control it, and [second] that it’s tightly regulated to ensure that young people or underage persons do not have access to it.”
Briceño added, “If we are going down that road, we can tax it and tax it heavily so that the monies can be used for health and education as well as creating opportunities for Belizeans.”