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May 3, 2022

Churches Deliver 20,000 Petition Signatures to the Governor General

In what is considered a historic move by the religious community, the Council of Churches and the National Evangelical Association of Belize today delivered twenty thousand, one hundred and eight signatures to Governor General Froyla Tzalam in an attempt to trigger a referendum on the legalization of marijuana. Following the exercise, the Government of Belize issued a release acknowledging the submission under Section two of the Referendum Act to commence a writ of referendum. G.O.B. says that it has repeatedly shown good faith and commitment to the consultation process in relation to the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill. News Five’s Paul Lopez was outside of the Belize House in Belmopan. He filed the following report.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

Senator Moses Benguche, Bishop of the Methodist Church, delivered twenty thousand signed petitions to the Governor General’s office in Belmopan this morning. These petitions were signed by Belizeans who are in support of a referendum on the legalization of cannabis in Belize. Today’s submission marks the end of a historic effort on the part of the churches to meet the ten percent threshold needed to trigger a referendum.


Bishop Moses Benguche

Bishop Moses Benguche, Church Senator

“The gathering of the church leaders assembled here today feels that is was important to be able to share and to bring these petitions to the Governor General at this time, because we are speaking in a direct way to what the government has done in presenting a bill on March twenty fifth, 2022, the Bill entitled Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill. For us at this time, we decided to present these petition, because we think that it is a backward and retrograded step being undertaken in the name of New Growth Industry.”


The Governor General’s office is expected to deliver the signatures to the Chief Elections Officer whose office will then undertake the process of vetting the signatures to ensure that the petitions are signed by registers voters. Once that process is complete, the Chief Elections Officers will then set a date for a referendum to be held.


Bishop Moses Benguche, Church Senator

“These signatures are all true and real. The signatures represent the voice of the Belizean public. It includes a former Prime Minister. It includes bankers, C.E.O.s of different companies across the length and breadth of this nation. It represents people from every walk of life, Rastafarians and community leaders. It is telling us here and now that though this petition for a referendum was first proposed by the church, it is no longer just the church calling for a referendum, but it is the entire country of Belize, people are responding to the call from the rural areas, the urban and the suburban areas. It includes the trade unions who have responded to the call, the lawyers who have responded to the call, men in uniform such as the Coast Guards who responded to the call. We are all calling on the Government of Belize to take the right step to get going with the referendum.”


The Government of Belize issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon referring to the submission of the petitions as an inspiring and encouraging day for the democratic system. G.O.B. says, while the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill has gained majority support in both the lower and upper house, Cabinet placed a hold on the signing into law to give the churches an opportunity to present their petition for a referendum. But, will these twenty thousand plus signatures withstand the scrutiny of the Chief Elections Officer?


Pastor Louis Wade

Pastor Louis Wade, NEAB Representative

“We believe that we live in an open society. The government needs to prove that by abiding by the rules of the referendum act, validating those signatures, because they have come from the church, and we are beginning to have a problem in the sense of the question or not there were consultations needs to be addressed, because the church is saying clearly there has been no official consultation. The church is saying we have properly vetted the documents and that those documents can stand any tests. Now, every single petition has been submitted, every single. So even if the petition did not pass the test, it was submitted because it was an authentic signature of an authentic Belizean, but we ensured that we surpassed the ten percent threshold with validated signatures. So, even if a person did not submit their voter’s id card but said I voted or forgot to vote, their petition was submitted and our responsibility was to ensure we provided more than enough of the ten percent trigger of validated.”


Pastor Louis Wade shared what his experience was like interacting with Belizeans across the nation on this issue, and some of the reasons given to him as to why they believed the legalization of marijuana could potentially be bad for their communities.


Pastor Louis Wade, NEAB Representative

“I thought that we would have had a problem communicating to our Belizean people on the issue of marijuana. As I’ve said marijuana prophets have ran before is in excellent music. I can’t say that Bob Marley’s music is second rate; it is the best in the world, Peter Tosh the best in the world, so the Marijuana proponents have run ahead of us. But, when we hit the ground and I think God wanted us to meet with people and talk with people, we realized that the marijuana issue is a paper tiger. The marijuana issue is a paper wall painted cement, because when we began to go into the homes the people began to explain to us why they do not want marijuana legalized, how it has affected their communities. Belize is a country both of urban and rural communities, villages integrated for a thousand years, hundreds of years now being ripped apart by the issue of marijuana and a dawn that has now come to live in their communities and have now taken on their young people as either their clients or gangsters. So Belize is not just Southside. Belize is a multiplicity of communities across this nation. So we say the marijuana issue is a paper tiger.”


And while these twenty thousand signatures do not amount to twenty thousand voters in opposition of the legalization of marijuana, the church contends that the majority of signatories are against the legislation of marijuana.


Pastor Louis Wade, NEAB Representative

“The twenty one thousand plus persons were concerned enough to be able to sign the petition. One of the things we are saying as a church is this, put it to a referendum, and I say this, the church will respect whatever the result is. The church has never been afraid of bringing forward the referendum. Put it to the referendum and the church will respect the wishes of the people.”


Reporting for News Five I am Paul Lopez.

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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