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‘Cost of referendum a greater reason for delay than Corresponding Banking Relationships,’ says Kareem Musa

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Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2022. 12:27 pm CST.

By Benjamin Flowers: Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries, Kareem Musa, says that the Government of Belize’s decision to seek a delay on the referendum for the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill of 2022 was motivated primarily by cost.

Musa explained this week that spending the $5 million estimated cost on the referendum in Belize’s current financial position was not an undertaking the government was willing to pursue. He went on to say that, while the impact on correspondent banking relationships (CBRs) is a major issue, the marijuana industry is one that is cash-based in any jurisdiction where it is found.

“Banking does not necessarily come into the picture unless you’re banking your cannabis dollars. So even in the Caribbean in the great United States where it is a $92 billion industry, it is a cash industry. So individuals who are engaged in the cannabis sector do not go and deposit their funds within the banks. That does not happen even in America. And so like I keep saying that is the way we would have to operate in Belize if we were to legalize cannabis,” Musa said.

Musa said that the global shift towards the legalization of marijuana is ongoing, with CARICOM nations such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Antigua, and St. Vincent making active movements toward legalization. Musa also noted that over 30 states in the USA have already legalized marijuana for either medical use, recreational use, or both, further emphasizing Belize’s need to ensure that the country is keeping up with the times.

He said that he views the delay of the referendum as a good thing, as it gives the government an opportunity to make necessary adjustments to address CBRs once legalization has taken place.

“In my respectful opinion that will never be tied up so we would have to figure a way out, whether it is opening community banks or credit unions that do not have CBR in order to bank the dollars here in Belize. That is the solution and there are several international companies which have expressed interest to come and open these community banks here.”

“The primary concern at this time is the cost of the referendum,” Musa added.

He went on to say that once legalization has been achieved and the industry has taken off in Belize, banks with CBRs will have to do their due diligence to ensure that they do not receive deposits from sources tied to the marijuana industry.

Last week, Prime Minister John Briceno announced that the government was in negotiations with the churches, who initiated the referendum proceedings, to seek a delay in the execution as the Referendum Act does not empower the government to delay the process.

 

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