Prime Minister John Briceno has officially announced that his government has binned the controversial Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill. The decision comes after growing blow back from churches, banks and tourism investors that are opposed to liberalizing the cultivation and consumption of marijuana in the tiny English-speaking country on Central America’s Caribbean coast.
Speaking in a broadcast interview this morning Mr. Briceno said that “The Referendum on the Marijuana Bill will be stayed and the implementation of the Bill shelved for now with the concurrence of the churches.” The bill which had passed the lower and upper houses of Belize’s parliament, was a pen-stroke away from being signed into law by the Belize’s ceremonial Governor General when the churches and social partners demanded a last-minute referendum on the matter. The strategy appears to have worked as the expense of the referendum, some $4 million dollars, was used by government as a reason for not going ahead with implementing the law. But pressure from the business sector and trading partners against the cannabis bill was also building up.
The business sector led by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and the Belize Tourism Industry Association, have been agitating against the law as there is the possibility that Belize’s largest trading partner the United States of America could impose additional correspondent banking sanctions. The PM stated today that the Belize Bankers Association had met with his Minister of State Christopher Coye recently to express their deep concerns on the impact this Bill will have on their corresponding banking relationships. Following the consultation, Cabinet decided to “hold back the referendum under conditions,” he stated.
Belize depends on the US for most of its income in the form of earnings from night and cruise ship tourism, and foreign exchange remittances sent home by Belizean-Americans.