Last month, after years of studying the matter, the government of Belize took a big step toward cannabis decriminalization, with the cabinet formally handing recommendations made by the Decriminalization of Marijuana Committee over to the office of the Attorney General for final review.
This means that the introduction of a decriminalization bill is almost certainly imminent. Sources say the proposed legislation would allow for persons in possession of 10 grams or less to face a fine or community service. The fine would be 15 Belizean dollars (US $7.50) per gram. The law would also be retroactive, expunging the records of those convicted in the past for possession within these limits.
"Too many young people have this following them, those who are seeking jobs," explained former National Security Minister Doug Singh.
So much for the good news.
Just after this happy development made local headlines in Belize, the U.S. State Department released its 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)—naming the country as one of 14 in Central America and the Caribbean believed to be “major money laundering” centers. The report, released March 5, admits that Belize is not a major regional financial center, but states: "The government of Belize continues to encourage offshore financial activities that are vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing, including offshore banks, insurance companies, trust service providers, mutual fund companies, and international business companies."
This is the second year running that Belize has made the INCSR list.
The others making the list this year are Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Panama, St. Maarten and Venezuela. There is considerable overlap between these countries and those which have stood up to Uncle Sam and broached a decriminalization solution to the drug war dilemma in recent years.
In 2012, Belize and all the other Central American nations were placed on a White House "watch list" as "Major Illicit Drug Transit" countries.
Whether or not these moves were politically motivated, Belize is certain to meet opposition from Washington, as well as its own domestic conservatives as it moves toward a more humane and rational cannabis policy.
(Photo Courtesy of Library of Images)