Posted: Friday, July 8, 2022. 9:55 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: While no writ of referendum has been issued by Governor-General Dame Froyla Tzalam to proceed with taking the pulse of the Belizean people on the legalization of marijuana, the Coalition of Churches – a loose alliance of the Belize Council of Churches and National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) – says it is ready to begin its campaign whenever she does, which must be within the next 60 days.
On Thursday during a Zoom interview, Coalition spokesperson Louis Wade remarked on the history of the occasion: “We are seeing history, we are glad to be a part of this history and we believe that it is positive history because it is the first time that any group of people has been able to work together to trigger a referendum. This is a good time. This is not the church forcing its opinion on the masses, this is the church leading and the nation saying yes, we want a democratic voice in the process. And I’ve said it before and I say it again, there are many other issues that need to be put before the people of Belize in referenda. We should not be afraid of this process because it is the purest form of hearing the voice of the people on any issue, especially on controversial issues. I watch the media go out on a regular basis and when they poll Belizeans, Belizeans are on both sides of the issue and are very passionate about it. I listen to the fact that the ministers themselves cannot definitively tell us whether they will win the referendum, as if the people will support them.”
And when the votes are ultimately cast, Wade believes, the majority will say no: “When we went into the streets, we had extended dialogue with the citizens of this nation and they have their reasons for forcing government to a referendum and they have their reasons why they will vote no. We believe, however, that since the period of time that we went out on the streets, there is new information which shows us even more why we should reject marijuana legalization in Belize. There is more scientific evidence that’s coming in; and so, we want the opportunity to also share these pieces of information with the public. We do not believe that the government has made a very good argument for legalization. They are simply talking about economics but they have not shown us where the police department, for example, at the present moment is able to regulate a marijuana industry. We found out from BAHA that the government had stopped them and prevented them from going out and testing the marijuana fields or the hemp fields, or the ganja fields, regardless of what it wants to be called. And, we also know that the committee has not met for almost two years or for at least a year and a half since this government came to office. And so the government may be trying to talk but it has not demonstrated its ability to regulate marijuana as we speak.”
But even if the vote is yes, he said, the churches are not going anywhere: “”We have skin in the game. Poverty is close to our hearts because we meet with people on a weekly basis. We know what they’re going through. Remember that the church decided to step in because the government was about to legalize marijuana without consulting the people or without even putting surveys. I think the last drug survey was conducted in 2016, which is the year before decriminalization. So the government has no official statistics on the effect that decriminalization or thoughts about legalization have had upon society. The church has skin in the game. We are the ones that the people come to without a political spin. And so, we intend to convince the nation. We intend to be proactive in this process. Now, maybe if the government were the ones that had initiated the referendum, as we were asking them to do, then probably we would have just waited for the pulse of the people. But now that the church has been forced to hit the streets and that 20,000 people have said, we want a referendum. They are looking to the church to provide leadership. And we have absolutely no problem providing that leadership, not only for the referendum, but the results of the referendum, and the effect that that is going to have on the society, up to election time and beyond election time. The church is going to be active in the fight against drugs…We did not elect demigods. We elected people who said that they would be servants of the people and I believe that should the people of Belize speak, to say we do not want marijuana legalized, I believe that whether or not the government thinks it is powerful enough or popular enough. I think the question is whether they will be humble enough to be able to say we stand corrected.”
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