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Nov 23, 2017

CARICOM and Belizeans Ponder Marijuana

The debate about recreational usage of marijuana continues, even after the decriminalization of possession of ten grams or less of the drug took effect earlier this month. While there is some support for tentative acceptance of use of weed for medicinal purposes, officialdom continues to frown on any attempt to make a business out of it, whether through cultivation or trafficking for retail. The CARICOM Heads of Government formed a regional commission on marijuana to consider, among other things, whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana and the subsequent legal and administrative conditions. The members visited Belize for national consultations, including a town hall forum being held at this hour. But first, as News Five’s Aaron Humes reports, there were focus group meetings held to bring all sides of the debate together.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

It may now be legal to possess ten grams of marijuana for one’s private use, but does that make it right to use at all? In a nutshell that was the question posed by those invited to today’s national consultations hosted by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana. Belize having recently taken the momentous step of instituting an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte says we as a region will take the next steps together.

 

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“What the Commission will do, they will compile the report from each country; put it together along with recommendations they may make to the CARICOM Heads, and then each country will decide if they want to follow the recommendations of the Commission, or how they want to proceed in general with the discussion on marijuana.”

 

That discussion is a collision of worlds – white-collar, professional, conservative, versus blue-collar, hand-to-mouth, liberal. Or, maybe it’s not that simple. Consider these two young men, both avid marijuana smokers who say that it’s not for everyone, although they use it to relax from life’s frustrations.

 

Theodore Andrews

Theodore Andrews, Focus Group Participant

“Marijuana dah wah every day use fi certain people, and I use it every day fi calm down. Sometimes I frustrated; marijuana calm yuh down. Somebody do you something – instead of reacting, you smoke a weed, you just calm down; you noh wahn do nothing from deh. I use it as a calmer.”

 

Reporter

“And did you, by any chance, share your opinions on what you believe are the positive effects of marijuana to the commissioners today?”

 

Theodore Andrews

“I never got to share my opinion. But I feel you have to reach an “edge” to smoke the marijuana. Because when you’re too young, like they say, you forget and you do all kind a thing.”

 

Joshua Hyde

Joshua Hyde, Focus Group Participant

“I actually started to smoke from I was ten years old and now I am eighteen years old; so I am actually smoking for eight years now.”

 

Aaron Humes

“Would you say that you consider yourself dependent on marijuana? Is it something that you absolutely have to have at a regular time and place?”

 

Joshua Hyde

“Sometimes, when I don’t have it I feel frustrated. If I noh have it in the process I know I have it once anything happens to calm me down, because that’s why I use it, to calm down. Or when I work – because sometimes I do construction work with different people around the village – that gives me the energy to work and wah work.”

 

But is it true that marijuana usage at a younger age carries greater risk? That is the opinion of neurosurgeon and spinal surgeon Dr. Andre Joel Cervantes. He suggests that medical marijuana, properly regulated and prescribed, and only as a last resort, is beneficial for some patients, but unrestricted recreational use, whether old or young, is not.

 

Dr. Andre Joel Cervantes, Neurosurgeon

“Marijuana will affect the growing brain; there is no doubt about that. Definitely the type of marijuana, the species of marijuana, the fact of how much THC, the active ingredient that it contains, will have an effect and it could have an adverse effect on the brain is no secret. That is why there is a difference between recreational marijuana and medicinal marijuana. Only in strange circumstances or unusual circumstances should we ever, as doctors, when there is nothing else that we can offer, consider the possibility of medical marijuana in a person who is a child or a teenager and is growing. We should not consider medical marijuana as a first option for any disease. That’s why we have medical science which has been proven over the years; thousands and thousands of years.”

 

Andre Joel Cervantes

Reporter

“Would you recommend anybody to consume marijuana recreationally? Yes or no?”

 

Dr. Andre Joel Cervantes

“Again, I cannot recommend it as a doctor. I would not recommend a person to consume marijuana recreationally, no.  From a medical perspective, yes.”

 

Reginald Hamilton, the popular proprietor of Regie’s Tea Shop, is a naturalist healer from Southside Belize City that has experimented with marijuana in certain of his products and claims to have found some benefits. He notes that the commercial marijuana sold in Belize carries unknown risks.

 

Reginald “Reggie” Hamilton

Reginald “Reggie” Hamilton, Naturalist Healer

“It goes in my external massage [medicine] and it goes in a lot of other stuff. I have done experiments with a lot of other stuff that marijuana is useful and beneficial for. In consuming I would ask – you can’t control people – but in consuming it, I would ask that most people would not consume it unless recommended by a doctor for medicinal purpose.”

 

Aaron Humes

“In other words, you would not support recreational consumption?”

 

Reginald “Reggie” Hamilton

“Yes. Because for a reason – it’s very, very good that people have a right and privilege to take care of their body. And as a healer I am saying: most of the time the cultivators out there – I don’t know who they are – but they would normally tend to plant in volume and use the pesticide to control insects from damaging the volume. And when the pesticide is put on the plant, it’s that you ingest or you consume the marijuana at its grade but also with another substance so that is a compound mixture.”

 

The discussion continues even after today’s town hall meeting and after a final report has been submitted to CARICOM. But that discussion is one Bishop of the Anglican Diocese Philip Wright intends to be a part of, representing his parishioners.

 

Philip Wright

Bishop Philip Wright, Anglican Church

“For one, I would love to encourage further conversation. I think we have not exhausted the conversation; I personally feel the group in the room was too large for you to get a good sense of persons, the opinions of different individuals. I will engage the church to continue the conversation. I will also engage the church in considering what can we do to help many of our youths who are being caught in this sort of a situation and how best can we serve their interest and help them to become productive citizens for this country.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

Three focus group meetings were held separately for the education and youth sector; faith based organizations and non-governmental organizations; and researchers, medical practitioners, practitioners of alternative medicine, advocates for medicinal use of marijuana, representatives from the National Drug Abuse Control Council, law enforcement and legal practitioners.

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