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Apr 6, 2022

Pastor Wade and Minister Musa on Opposite Ends of Cannabis Bill Debate

The debate is raging. Should the Briceño Administration move to legalize marijuana be taken to a national referendum? The churches, the opposition and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize also say the matter should be brought before the people for a decision, by way of a referendum. But, the government does not seem to think it is a necessary step before the implementation of the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Act, which is scheduled for later this month. The church coalition which is the entity really leading the charge on the call for a referendum is taking a moral and societal approach to its argument, while the Ministry of New Growth Industry is looking at it from a legal perspective. The divide across the nation is becoming evident. News Five’s Paul Lopez reports.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

Data suggests that seventy-five percent of Belize’s population describe themselves as Christian. So, it is no surprise that the churches are raising a moral objection to the government’s push to legalize marijuana. Their long held view is that the altering effect marijuana has on the human brain is not the will of God.


Louis Wade, Representative, National Evangelical Association of Belize

Louis Wade

“The church plays an important role in the nation as it relates to the morality of an issue as well as the legality of the issue. Every Belizean should have a say in what is legislated.”


It is on this basis that the church is distributing a petition in hopes of getting eighteen thousand signatures that would trigger a referendum.


Louis Wade

“It is right to say that the debate is raging. Political parties, unions, business community, the man on the street, the churches, have a right to participate in that debate. And the constitution also calls that any matter can be brought to referendum but on a particular trigger of signatures.”


The greatest hurdle religious leaders are facing is time. They only have until April eleventh to get those eighteen thousand signatures. That is the date the Government of Belize has agreed to sign the cannabis bill into law. Kareem Musa, the Minister for New Growth Industries, says he doesn’t think it is possible for NEAB or anyone else to garner that kind of support by Monday.


Kareem Musa

Kareem Musa, Minister of New Growth Industries

“I think it is a difficult challenge. I don’t think it will be possible. Like I said, yesterday, I am surprised it will come at such a late stage; we have been putting work on this legislation along with the churches, along with the social partners over the course of the last year. And while it is that one entity the NEAB, and in particular Pastor Wade has been requesting a referendum, it is only now that the bill has already passed, both in the House and Senate, that we are hearing a call for a referendum.”


Musa argues that the legalization of marijuana is not being done in a manner that disregards law and order. In fact, he says the bill helps to address the current deficiencies created by the decriminalization of ten grams back in 2017.


Kareem Musa

“What you have right now is a wild-wild west situation where people have to go in a dark alley to purchase marijuana. Young men and some women have to dodge police to bring in marijuana from Mexico. It is an entire illicit trade that is connected to the underworld, connected to a lot of the killings happening on Southside Belize City. So, we are trying to put mechanism in place to create greater controls so that it does not end up in the hands of minors. We even increased the age to twenty-one years old. You have to have a card to consume cannabis. So, all the things that are not in place for alcohol sales we are putting in place for cannabis.”


Pastor Wade says he doesn’t buy Musa’s argument. He counters that the government must first prove it has the capacity to properly regulate… anything.


Louis Wade

“The argument is that government is incapable, or has shown incapacity, to properly regulate alcohol. It has not passed legislation for second-hand smoking of tobacco which is a known cancer causing product. Now, it wants to introduce a third drug, marijuana, on the premise that it will regulate it. We are just saying start by regulating alcohol. Start and prove to us that you can regulate things by regulating unlicensed firearms.”

Musa estimates holding a referendum on the issue will cost tax payers approximately two million dollars. He says he is not entirely against leaving it up for the people to decide, but he asks: who will foot the bill?


Kareem Musa

“Yes, there a small group that is asking for a referendum, but how do you balance that against the next ninety percent of the population that is saying that is not something we want to invest our money in? I think the first thing that we should do is do a poll. Call everyone in the country. Call a random sample of adults and ask them: do you want to spend two million dollars on a referendum for cannabis? Maybe, that is a good starting point.”


Louis Wade

“I notice that a minister was talking about how expensive a referendum can be. Unfortunately, when our Constitution speaks to a referendum being triggered, it is above the pay grade of any minister of government. When the Constitution speaks, we should all listen because we are governed by the Constitution, and not just by ministers who want to unilaterally control a marijuana industry.”


But with this week almost over already, NEAB will have to act very fast indeed to get the signatures they need for the referendum on this very divisive issue.

Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez


The Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Act, 2022 speaks to a Cannabis Control Commission responsible for reviewing applications, issuing licenses and I.D. cards, inspections, monitoring and overseeing of compliance, among other responsibilities. The Act gives the Minster of New Growth Industry the authority to appoint all nine members of the Commission.

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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