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May 15, 2023

Customs Department Breaks Its Silence on Weed Gummies

It made the headlines three weeks ago when thirty-three persons, primarily children, experienced side effects and had to be hospitalized after consuming weed-laced gummies sold at their school.  A thorough investigation was launched and it was later revealed that the packaged drug-infused candies were imported in a barrel and intercepted by the Customs and Excise Department. The illegal items were handed over to the police before making its way onto the streets.  Tonight, the Customs and Excise Department breaks its silence on the weed-laced gummies. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Estella Leslie, Comptroller, Customs & Excise Department

Estella Leslie

“We have our modules there that we can identify high risk items and low risk items. And that risk management system gives us an idea of which consignment we are supposed to intervene on. And so you will see some people would get green, which would mean that there is no intervention from customs; they can take their shipment. Other people will get yellow, which means we will just do a documentary check. But those high risk consignment will get red and we would have to actually examine the entire shipment – documentary and the physical examination.”


Duane Moody, Reporting

It was during a physical examination of a shipment, back in late January, that personnel at the Customs and Excise Department came across a shipment of marijuana-laced gummies. They were sent from the United States to Akeem Gamboa.


Lawrence Thompson

Lawrence Thompson, Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement & Compliance, Customs & Excise Department

“We come in contact with many different imported goods – some of them are illicit, prohibited or restricted. And so these gummies did enter our country through the Belize City port and they were intercepted by our officers while doing an examination. I will not disclosed with this particular incident how this was detected, but rest assured that we are applying the proper risk management, meaning that we are identifying the country of origin, the type of commodity that is being imported and we are looking at these commodities so that we can identify in the future when these things are coming in. If it is a restricted or prohibited commodity then we inform the regulatory agent that is responsible for that nationally. In this case, it would be the police that we normally liaise with and we get them on scene for them to also be a part of the enforcement action and then pursue whatever other intelligence or investigation that needs to be done after the intercept.”


Over the past year, several barrels of weed gummies have been intercepted and destroyed. In this case in January, however, the prohibited items were handed over to the Belize Police Department. As we know, those packaged weed gummies made their way to the streets and landed thirty-three persons, majority minors in the hospital.


ACP Hilberto Romero, Regional Commander, Eastern Division [File: April 25th, 2023]

ACP Hilberto Romero

“Police visited the K.H.M.H. where reports were received that several persons including adults and students, minors had reached this location with various symptoms and were being treated. We immediately dispatched investigators as well as other personnel from the police department to conduct searches and to find out what was happening. So far we have recovered several packages of gummies which the students claim they had consumed. Presently several searches are being conducted within Belize City and we have recovered several packages and investigation continues at this time.”


Lawrence Thompson, the Deputy Comptroller for Enforcement and Compliance at the Customs and Excise Department, could not confirm whether there had been previous shipments for Gamboa.  What he did say is that his information has been flagged for any future imports.


Lawrence Thompson

“We know that this incident happened and so this person will be flagged continuing if he intends to import anymore. Of course, we have to recognise that these nefarious actors are constantly monitoring law enforcement and so we have to also be proactive and innovative in our law enforcement approach. So while this person, we recognise his name and his address, his telephone number and all that, we flag that for high risk, for any future consignment that is being important, understanding also that once these actors recognise that they have been stopped, they will try other means. So customs work with its local law enforcement intelligence cells and agencies as well as its regional and international counterparts to stem the flow of these commodities through the sharing of information.”


Thompson says that beyond laced candy, there are actually compressed weed and guns and ammunition that are intercepted at the various ports of entry.


Lawrence Thompson

“We have found a lot of illicit activities. We found marijuana in barrels, we’ve found firearms in barrels, firearm parts, restricted items. People will always try to smuggle things in the country. It’s our jobs to try to detect it.”


And so, the department is strengthening its enforcement arm as a result of this.


Lawrence Thompson

“We have further enhanced our risk management operations adding an intelligence driver approach as well. So we work in collaboration and in coordination with our local law enforcement and regional and international law enforcement partners to help to stem the flow of these commodities. We recognise the threats that exist and so we are very serious in addressing these threats because we recognise the harm.”


Thompson says that no personnel attached to the Customs and Excise Department has been found to be complicit in this incident. Duane Moody for News Five.

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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