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The Politics of Marijuana/Ganja/Hashish in Belize and Antigua & Barbuda

Suddenly ganja is now a frontline political issue in English speaking states of the Caribbean. In St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines the issue is in the news headlines on a regular basis but not in T&T. In 2017 Belize decriminalised possession of ten grams of ganja for personal use and Antigua & Barbuda followed in 2018 with the decriminalisation of fifteen grams of ganja for personal use. But there is no commonality in the legislation of Belize and Antigua & Barbuda to decriminalisation and the expansion of decriminalisation into legalisation and a ganja industry.

The legislation of Belize illustrates the political imperative driving decriminalisation for personal use of small amounts of ganja which hits the steel wall that is erected to allay any fears of the slippery slope to legalisation made flesh via the tiny leak in the dyke that is decriminalisation of tiny amounts for personal use. The politicians of the ruling party of Belize must then assure internal and external political forces that can impact negatively their obsession/fixation with re-election by any means necessary. Act No. 47 of 2017 amends the Misuse of Drugs Act Chapter 103 of Belize. This act redefines cannabis as any part of the plant of the genus cannabis sativa including its resin or hashish. Industrial hemp is now no longer classified as cannabis and permitted medicinal preparations from cannabis sativa are not classified as cannabis. Section 7 of the original act is amended to make lawful possession of ten grams or less of ganja. Persons found in possession of ten grams or less of ganja on the premises of an educational institution will be liable to a ticket of B$ 100 or whatever fine established. A person under the age of eighteen years old found in possession of ten grams or less of ganja will be required to attend a drug treatment programme. The amendment act of 2017 does not amend Section 8 of the original act which means that persons are not allowed to cultivate a specified number of ganja trees from which to reap their ten grams. As the cultivation of ganja remains illegal. They are then forced to deal in the illicit supply side of the market to acquire their legal ten grams of ganja because all ganja production remains illegal. The amendment act then has to amend Section 10 of the original act in order to create a space where persons can acquire their legal ten grams legally for Section 10 criminalises ganja blocks. The amendment act therefore legalises the sale, preparation and use of ganja/hashish in a space as long as the quantity is ten grams or less. Which necessitated amending Section 11 of the original act by now making it legal for ganja/hashish users to frequent a space without it being illegal. This entire approach could have been evaded by allowing registered persons eighteen years and over to plant and reap the product of a specified number of ganja plants strictly for personal use. But to legalise production for personal use is viewed as grave political risk as it is the foundation of the slippery slope to legalisation. For with legal supply feeding into legal use of a small amount of ganja/hashish the basis of a licit production and consumption unit is laid which can be readily expanded to facilitate legalisation. The political imperative behind the Belizean amendment has then proven to be a valuable gift to organised crime in Belize. The amended act adds to Section 28 of the original act the new sections of 28 A and 28 B. Section 28 B makes the provision that a person convicted under Section 7 of the act fined for possession of ganja/hashish in a sum not exceeding B$ 1,000 or an amount defined by the Minister before or after the proclamation of this new section can apply for the criminal record to be expunged.

The 2017 amendment act has impacted the Belizean ganja market fundamentally. The act revealed for the first time the market dynamics of the ganja market in Belize where demand outstrips supply with the level of demand for the first time being displayed in public with the decriminalisation of possession of 10 grams or less. This revealed demand reality is driving an escalating ganja war in Belize that has now expanded outwards from the urban areas.

The act has ensured that demand expresses itself publicly and aggressively since November 2017 at ten grams or less per person at any given time which can be multiple times in a single time span. The continued aggressive stance towards home grown ganja plantations seen in their eradication which involve international actors has resulted in a tsunami of imports from Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia etc. as imported supply floods the market. The salient grave mistake of the amendment act is the creation of a phenomenon on the supply side of the ganja block that now straddles illicit production and illicit supply (illicit drug trafficking) and licit supply of ganja/hashish in quantities of ten grams or less. This Frankenstein monster created by the act is the product of the political fear in Belize of the political price to be exacted for allowing persons to grow their own ganja for personal use. These ganja/hashish blocks will be dominated by transnational organised crime where the stash will never be housed on the block, every sales person on the block will be an adult eighteen years and over and in possession of ten grammes or less of ganja for personal use. And clients will make multiple purchases/visits to the block always in possession of ten grams or less of ganja. As these blocks rake in the money the ganja wars will escalate into wars of extermination and seizure of turf. The rate at which the administrative regulations are formulated and ratified as molasses flowing up a hill will also deeply frustrate those intent on utilising the provisions of the amended act. This will in no way frustrate the drive to buy and use ganja but it will increase the tension within the ganja structure which will impact the social order. The grave lesson from Belize is don’t play with ganja possession in conjunction with decriminalisation and hope to mute the momentum that arises towards legalisation. As the political games played with small amount decriminalisation and the blowback that ensues illustrate the need for legalisation to ensure the protection of the integrity of the social order. Legalise it!

The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2018 came into force in March 2018 in Antigua & Barbuda. This amendment act takes and entirely different approach to the decriminalisation of a small amount of ganja/resin/hashish from that adopted by Belize. In this case the small amount of ganja is 15 grams and the adult in control of a space is allowed to plant and reap the product of four ganja trees for personal use. Licit production of supply is then linked to licit consumption for personal use thereby creating a multiplicity of small production units supplying consumption. A platform for eventual legalisation of ganja was laid in Antigua & Barbuda by this 2018 act. Because of the provision of licit production, the act unlike Belize was not forced to create the Frankenstein ganja block model of Belize. The Antigua & Barbuda act replicates provisions as in the Belize act as the expunging of criminal record of persons convicted for possession of ganja/hashish in a quantity of 15 grams or less. In the Antigua & Barbuda act persons who smoke ganja in a public space are liable to fines but not a criminal conviction.

The amended act of March 2018 has now afforded glimpses of the demand side of the ganja market in Antigua & Barbuda as one can possess 15 grams and less without criminal liability thereby facilitating licit usage within the boundaries set by the law. Ganja trafficking into Antigua has markedly increased with product being imported from as far as Canada and the US. The creation of household licit production units means that cannabis drug blocks are still prohibited under the law but the fifteen grams threshold now affords these blocks operational space where the stash is never on the block and those on the block are in possession of 15 grams or less of ganja reputedly for personal use. The police will now have to up their game but it is now apparent as in Belize that the emphasis is now on traffickers.

What is apparent in both Belize and Antigua & Barbuda is that transnational organised crime responds to decriminalisation of small amounts of ganja/hashish by investing increased resources in the ganja trade if they were previously active or become active if they were not. The intent is to exploit the new nature of demand created by decriminalisation of small amounts and to expand the ganja product range, both in product types, quality and potency, available on the market. There is then a push in all ganja markets of the Caribbean to expand the demand for resin/hashish and especially so in the decriminalised markets. The Belize model will in fact aid the drive of transnational crime to dominate the Belizean ganja market whilst the Antigua & Barbuda model will form an adequate platform towards legalisation but will create a mixed supply side of the market model. The Belizean model is expected to generate violence and instability much more than that of Antigua & Barbuda but the only way to mitigate the violence is to legalise it. Decriminalisation must then be one stop on the way to legalisation as decriminalisation of small amounts does not contain/restrict the factors that drive the violence. Decriminalisation is a gift to transnational organised crime whilst the ban on ganja is their gangsta paradise. As the Belize model illustrates a poorly constructed decriminalisation regime is gangsta paradise on steroids. Legalise it!

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