The longstanding church-and-state relationship appears to be at risk thanks to the government’s lack of meaningful consultation on marijuana legalization and several other national issues, the Council of Churches expressed this week via a two-page press release.
In its release the Council of Churches (“the Council”) wrote: “With regard to other important issues facing our nation, such as the legalization of marijuana issue, the government is moving forward on this legislation without seeking input from the Church.”
As it relates to the cannabis matter, the Council is writing in specific reference to the lack of consultation regarding the Misuse of Drug (Amendment) Bill 2021, which seeks to legalize marijuana cultivation, possession, and delivery, locally.
“The Council of Churches believes that the growth and distribution of marijuana create and/or enhances societal and moral ills already plaguing our country,” said the Council this week. “Legalizing the growing and distribution of a drug, which will ultimately be available, locally, and consumed on a recreational basis that causes effects on the human body, particularly on our youth, is not a path civil society should choose to take.”
According to the churches, they were forced to comment publicly on the matter because, despite the assurance made by the Briceño administration that they would seek input on important societal and moral issues from the Council of Churches, they have not been consulted. Therefore, the Council says that they feel that they are left to respond to the pastoral challenge of societal ills without any benefit of input which they find to be utterly inconsiderate and disrespectful.
National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB)’s Pastor Louis Wade told The Reporter that the churches are of a collective view that the government is moving in the wrong direction. Wade pointed out that since the decriminalization of marijuana three years ago there has been an increase in marijuana use in places such as parks, basketball courts, football fields, and other areas where children frequent, thereby, making them more susceptible to early drug use and addiction.
“We are simply not ready for the legalization of marijuana in Belize. We have not been able to properly supervise existing controlled substances such as alcohol and tobacco. The recent decriminalization of marijuana shows that nothing that the government had promised that it was going to do have been done. Where is the ticketing system that was promised? Where are the zones? They had promised that marijuana was only to be consumed in the privacy of homes; we are not seeing that. It has been three years into decriminalization and they have not fulfilled their promises,” commented Wade.
Wade also dived into the issue of National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC), who he says have been silent on drug education for the past couple of years. Wade said that coupled with the fact that the Government does not seem to have a robust mental health system throughout the country, or the proper rehabilitation centers in place, it would seem that neither the Government nor the country is completely ready for the legalization of marijuana.
“The church is very concerned about the issue because we are the ones who deal with those who are left behind by society, such as those who have been affected by alcohol, drugs, marijuana, or gambling. If the government is not helping the poor who are affected directly or indirectly by drugs, how will they take it to another level and expect the church to be silent in an area where the churches are the ones who are left picking up the pieces for families and children that are left affected by drug use?” ended Wade.
The churches say that there is little confidence these days in the nation’s ability to enforce laws and that they believe that if the legalization of the marijuana bill is passed that any regulations and enforcement thereof will be completely disregarded.
Then Leader of the Opposition Hon. John Briceño told the nation that the next PUP administration would legalize marijuana.
In 2018, then Leader of the Opposition (LOO) Hon. Briceño had publicly endorsed the idea of legalization of marijuana. Speaking in his then weekly address as LOO, he said: “The opportunities in this $144 billion [cannabis] industry are endless and we have to take advantage of it. I am putting together a team of people from my party to start the research and discussion to develop a plan, because the next PUP government will not opportunities like this escape us.”
Since then, the PUP has gone on to win a landslide victory at the polls on November 11th 2020. This has caused some political pundits to opine that the current legislative agenda regarding marijuana is part of the mandate the Briceño Administration received from the electorate.