Seventy-one percent of respondents who participated in a new Public Domain survey believe marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes.
The survey by the Bahamian market and opinion research firm was commissioned by the non-profit group Bahama Cann to gauge Bahamians’ attitudes on medicinal marijuana.
Public Domain conducted a telephone survey between June 1 and June 14, 2018.
Nine hundred and ninety eight respondents throughout The Bahamas were interviewed.
While 71 percent said medical marijuana should be legalized, 21 percent disagreed and eight percent was unsure.
“For me, that number is incredibly high,” said M’wale Rahming, president of Public Domain.
“Anytime you get into the 70s and you have seven out of 10 Bahamians agreeing on something, that’s always surprising to me.
“…It appears the conversation is being started. I think this is a beginning rather than an end. I think this is the start of the conversation and a lot more conversation has to happen.
“A lot more education has to happen on both sides, pro and con, because we are just starting to have this conversation so the details around this are not fleshed out, I don’t think, in our society.
“And I think the data also shows where there are a lot of misconceptions about medicinal marijuana specifically.”
When asked to cite a reason why marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes, 44 percent of respondents said it helps people who need it or people with medical conditions.
Five percent specifically said it helps with cancer; six percent said it helps with pain; three percent said it helps with stress and calms people; eight percent said it is effective medication and 10 percent said it’s natural.
Other reasons were also listed.
Twelve percent of respondents had no answer, however.
Asked for reasons why the substance should not be legalized for medicinal purposes, 18 percent said it will be used recreationally, 15 percent said it will be abused, 15 percent said it is harmful or will destroy live; eight percent said it’s addictive, seven percent said there is no proof it works and four percent said it leads to crime.
Again, other reasons were also given.
Seventeen percent of respondents had no answer.
Respondents were also asked specifically if they believe the legalization of medical marijuana will lead to increased recreational use.
Of those surveyed, 58 percent strongly agreed or somewhat agreed, 29 percent strongly disagreed or somewhat disagreed and 14 percent remained neutral.
“This is not a yes or no answer. This is a belief because no one really knows what will happen,” Rahming said.
“But we clearly have a population that thinks if medicinal marijuana is legalized it will lead to increased recreational use, so that may be one of the things that is holding us back because we worry that it won’t only be medicinal because once this comes in, recreation will follow behind it.”
Ninety percent of respondents said they are aware of the use of medical marijuana to treat debilitating medical conditions.
Seventy-five percent said they strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that marijuana has medical benefits, while 12 percent strongly disagreed or somewhat disagreed and 13 percent were neutral.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they know someone suffering from a debilitating medical condition such as epilepsy/seizures, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, chronic pain, cancer, depression and/or glaucoma.
“There is a host of medical conditions where medicinal marijuana has proven to be effective and we wanted to find out first, is there a need for this or a market for this,” Rahming noted.
“And I’m actually surprised and alarmed that it’s such a high percentage, so six out of 10 Bahamians say they know someone who is suffering from one of these debilitating medical conditions.”
Asked to list other treatments that may be used besides pharmaceuticals to help people with debilitating medical conditions, 29 percent of respondents said natural herbs and plants, nine percent said medical marijuana and 49 percent said they didn’t know of other treatments.
Rahming said researchers also sought to understand some of the resistance to medical marijuana usage.
In order to gauge this, respondents were asked whether they believe medical marijuana is addictive.
Of the people surveyed, 56 percent strongly agreed or somewhat agreed, 24 percent strongly disagreed or somewhat disagreed, and 20 percent were neutral.
Respondents were also asked to rank four different substances in order of most harmful to least harmful.
Of the substances, tobacco was ranked most harmful and marijuana was ranked least harmful.
Alcohol was ranked second and sugar was ranked third on the list.
Rahming noted that this was one of the most interesting findings from the study.
“If you go by demographic, these numbers change,” he said.
“However, in every single demographic, marijuana is listed as the least harmful substance.”
Rahming noted yesterday that the majority of people surveyed (85 percent) said their source of information on medical marijuana came from either television or internet.
He noted that this number is shocking because it shows that, “We don’t have any specialist directly talking to us, in our society, about how this would fit in and I think that would be greatly needed.”
He added, “We are going to hope that we get more information locally about this, so that we are not relying on the internet and television.
“So hopefully when we redo this study in a year or so we will find that the numbers may have gone up a bit in terms of where they get their information from and reasons why it should or should not be legalized because we will be better equipped to answer that question.”
The conversation on the legalization of marijuana in The Bahamas was again sparked when the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana held a town hall meeting on January 5.
The commission opened the floor for comments from the public, and many people took the opportunity to speak to the issue, outlining what they believe to be the economic, social and health benefits of the drug being legalized or decriminalized.
The majority of people who spoke at the meeting were in support of the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in The Bahamas.
The commission will present its findings from a study on the Caribbean’s viewpoint on the decriminalization of marijuana at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Jamaica this week.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and a delegation are in Jamaica.
The commission’s report was leaked to the Jamaica Gleaner and that story has been widely circulated on social media.
According to the leaked report, “The commission is unanimous in its view that the current classification for cannabis/marijuana as a dangerous drug with no value or narcotic should be changed to a classification of legal cannabis as a controlled substance.”
When he spoke to the matter in January, Attorney General Carl Bethel said he will not support the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in The Bahamas as long as it is criminalized by the U.S. federal government.
Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that eased enforcement of federal marijuana laws, a clear indication of the Trump administration’s position on the drug and its use.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications