Early move on medical marijuana?


Tribune Senior Reporter


THE Bahamas Marijuana Commission is resuming its work this week with its co-chair Quinn McCartney admitting it will be challenging to fully decriminalise the substance in two years even though “low-hanging fruits” like medical marijuana can be legalised in that time.

The commission held its first meeting since March yesterday. “I didn’t think any of us anticipated the pandemic effects would’ve been so long-lasting,” Mr McCartney said.

“When the pandemic came we thought it was prudent to pause to get over that first wave. We were sort of in abeyance waiting for the right opportunity to reconvene. We’ve done so now because of increased interest in our work and perhaps possible benefits of our recommendations.”

Before the COVID-19 crisis, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said he wants to decriminalise medical and small amounts of recreational marijuana by the end of this term.

Asked about that timeline, Mr McCartney said: “We presented a report that can be implemented in phases and so I think there are some things that can be done. The medical marijuana, that’s a low hanging fruit that can certainly be dealt with. I think the biggest challenge will be putting in the regulatory framework and making sure agencies are in place to ensure things are done properly. People will have to be hired, some will have to be trained, an office will have to be located and then there’s the whole licensing process. These things will take time but certainly if the will is there I think there are a sufficient templates out there to guide us and certainly some of the more low-hanging fruits can be done. It can be done in phases but there might be too much to do at one time.”

Mr McCartney said at the top of the commission’s agenda is discussing how to get to the finish line and complete a promised survey on the attitudes of Bahamians toward marijuana.

He said social distancing protocols have complicated efforts to complete the survey.

“One of the options was an electronic survey but the preferred method would be door-to-door interaction with people we are surveying. That’s the method of choice but under the circumstances we will have to see how best we can adapt and use the means that are most effective taking into consideration the current times that we’re in. We want the information to be reliable and statistically sound. We will consult the experts to determine how best we can quickly achieve that without compromising anyone’s health,” he said.

Carlyle Bethel, head of the Free National Movement’s Torchbearers Association, wrote Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on Friday, insisting a way to boost the ailing economy is marijuana reform.

“The governor of the Central Bank announced on August 4, 2020 that they are projecting our economy to contract by 15-20 percent, with our tourism industry not fully recovering until 2022,” he wrote.

“He also noted that the cause of such a large contraction in our economy is due to the fact that we are so reliant on tourism. The IDB also predicts that, economically, we will be one of the hardest-hit countries in the world because of this same fact. With the financial services industry in its current free-fall, tourism is currently the only true source for two critical economic factors. One is the inflow of USD to feed foreign currency reserve requirements and to project the BSD/USD peg; and the other, to provide larger amounts of jobs for our people.”

“That being said, I suggest we expeditiously pursue the full legalisation of cannabis in the Bahamas. In addition the proven medical and health benefits, I believe this new industry will provide significant economic alleviation fo the country by assisting the tourism industry in generating foreign currency reserves and jobs for the Bahamas.”

The marijuana commission has recommended that the cannabis industry have at least 51 percent Bahamian ownership.

Mr Bethel called for “even greater measures” to ensure ownership in the industry “will not be concentrated in the hands of a select few.”

He said thousands of acres of crown land should be made available to Bahamians, particularly farmers, to cultivate cannabis and manufacture cannabis-based products.

“We can provide training through the Ministry of Agriculture and BAMSI to teach interested Bahamians how to farm and produce cannabis-based products.”

“The government should consider establishing an umbrella organisations similar to the Securities Commission of the Bahamas, to provide the regulatory framework, technical support and development expertise to this new industry,” he said.