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Jul 13, 2021

A Closer Look at the Hemp Industry from Multiple Perspectives

Since an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act was presented in the House of Representatives on July second, the cannabis discussion which includes industrial hemp and marijuana has returned to its starting point.  There are many who support a gradual move by the Government of Belize to legalize the cultivation, trade and possession of marijuana.  There are also legitimate businessmen who appreciate the economic opportunities that the hemp industry can bring to the country and, of course, there is also the church whose position has remained steadfast from the onset.  Tonight, we take a look at the plant at the heart of this controversial issue and visit a farm poised and ready for the new industry.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The introduction of hemp, as a new growth industry, to a depressed local economy that is in desperate need of revitalization is an opportunity for many Belizeans to find work in the agriculture sector.  It also raises serious concerns within the church, as well as among other interested parties that are conservative in outlook.  For one enterprising businessman, cultivating cannabis sativa on a large scale, specifically for industrial use, is a chance to expand his portfolio.  It is also a prospect for the creation much needed employment.


Giovanni Alamilla

Giovanni Alamilla, Hemp Licensee

“We have five acres behind me.  It’s been cleared, plowed, tilled and bedded.  We already have the irrigation down, ready to be planted.  So what we do is we have, we’re growing seeds to seedlings and then we’ll plant the seedlings at about three weeks to four weeks old.”


For Giovanni Alamilla, exploring commercial hemp production was a thought that had crossed his mind well before the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the advent of the very widespread disease in 2020 and the devastating effect it has had on Belize’s economy, he says it is now or never.


Giovanni Alamilla

“My idea was to create an industry here in Belize and COVID really pushed that idea because I see where we can develop it more in Belize.  For instance, in the U.S., you can only get one and a half, maybe two crops per year.  In Belize we could get three and a half to four crops per year, so that already gives us an advantage.”


Industrial hemp is a type of cannabis sativa species that is one of the fastest growing plants that can be processed to manufacture a number of items that include paper, rope, textiles and clothing, among other things.  Hemp is also well known for its medicinal uses.  Dr. Wayne McLaughlin is a research scientist and professor at UWI Mona Campus in Jamaica.


Dr. Wayne McLaughlin, Professor, UWI Mona Campus

“Jamaica has been growing cannabis for a long time and I use the word cannabis rather than marijuana for specific reasons, but for a very, very long time we have been cultivating cannabis, illegally of course, but in 2016 that changed.  It was decriminalized, not legalized, so that’s again a key difference and the decriminalization basically allowed the cultivation and specifically for use as a medicinal plant.”


It’s a systematic course of action that was introduced in Belize back in 2017.  However, with the decriminalization of cannabis comes the subsequent discussion of marijuana legalization, as well as the overall growth and expansion of such a lucrative industry.  It’s a polemic issue, perhaps one that raises more questions than the government can reasonably answer.


Kareem Musa

Kareem Musa, Minister of New Growth Industries

“Yes, government expects to get revenue, tax dollars from this industry, but at the same time we need to incorporate the small man into this industry as well.  There are players who are existing and so we have to find a way for this plant that has been the source of so much division and warfare for it to become one of unity, a healing plant, not just in terms of its medicinal qualities but because also of its social healing power, its economic healing power.”


On Alamilla’s land, this barren tract will see a team of farmers sowing seedlings in the coming days.  Getting here has been quite an investment.


Giovanni Alamilla

“Right now, just to reach to this point, we have a staff of eight people and that will grow as the plants continue growing.  I always say you have to weed the weed, so the lines have to be walked, the rows have to be walked everyday and they need to check to make sure there are no shoots coming out from the bottom of the plant that we put in there…  All our seeds are feminized, the males grow from the female root, so if we let a male grow, it will pollinate the female and then you have marijuana or a higher THC percentage.”


Hemp has lower concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, and may have higher concentrations of cannabidiol, CBD, which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects.


Giovanni Alamilla

“The seeds that we have are certified point three percent or below, so we don’t want it to go above that, so we have to make sure we have full control, making sure no males are around.”


The legality of industrial hemp varies widely among countries.  Cannabis cultivation, particularly marijuana, remains illegal in Belize.


Kareem Musa

“What we have is a situation where it’s still an illegal trade, the importation of cannabis is primarily from Mexico.  It is illegal and the people involved in the trade are actually endangering their lives.  We know that it is the source of so much warfare within the streets of Belize City, I would go as far as to say it is the number one reason our young people are killing one another.”


So how would legalizing marijuana make it any better for its many stakeholders?


Giovanni Alamilla

“I see it as bringing problems that we don’t need but more on a security level.  Our security forces can’t handle the issues we have now, so how are they going to be able to handle marijuana on a larger scale being sold commercially?  Who will control that?  How are they going to control that? How are we going to stop the people that mean to do bad from getting in?  It’s not like we can say we’re going to send the police and the police will monitor this farm and that farm.  We don’t have enough police for that.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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