Marijuana policy is rapidly changing in the United States. The plant is fully legal in 10 states. Medical marijuana is legal in 33.
Big states such as New York and New Jersey are considering full legalization, too.
Further evidence of the American attitude change toward the cannabis family came at the end of last year. In December, U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill into law, legalizing hemp at the federal level.
A type of cannabis with only low levels of the psychoactive agent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), hemp can be used to make building materials, rope, clothing and other industrial applications. It can also be harvested for cannabidiol (CBD), which is used in a plethora of medicines and health products.
In a report by Arcview Market Research, in partnership with BDS Analytics, it is projected that consumer spending around the world on legal marijuana will reach $57 billion by 2027.
In the United States, the legal marijuana market was projected at $11 billion in consumer spending last year.
There are other estimates that indicate 250,000 jobs already exist in plant handling in the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. Another 300,000 jobs in the overall sector are projected by 2020.
Only two countries have fully legalized. Uruguay was the first in December 2013. Its dispensaries started selling weed in July 2017. Canada was the second on October 17, 2018.
It is all but inevitable that marijuana will be fully legal in the U.S. in the near future – and there is strong appetite for change. According to a Pew Research Center survey last year, 62 percent of Americans said the use of marijuana should be legalized.
Where we are
The Bahamas is stuck in the past. Its leaders fear change on this issue.
A young man found with a joint would be locked up, held in detention and prosecuted. Fortunately, magistrates see the absurdity in our laws. Small possession offenders are often discharged or given small fines.
But, damage is still done through arrest, detention and prosecution. Some lose their jobs. Some are branded as “criminals”. All this because they wanted a simple recreational high that bothers no one.
The shift in the American policy toward marijuana causes a problem here. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is essentially the patron of our Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU). Through Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos (OPBAT), the U.S. is also on the ground and seas in The Bahamas going after drug traffickers and grow-ops.
Last summer, the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana recommended the declassification of marijuana as a dangerous drug in all legislation, and the reclassification of it as a controlled substance.
The Bahamas has established its marijuana commission, which is still at work. It’s unclear what will be recommended. The wise advice would be for The Bahamas to begin the path to full legalization of cannabis, allowing the country to establish a new plank to its economy.
Based on the vast fields police regularly uncover in Andros, Grand Bahama and Abaco, marijuana grows easily in this climate of perpetual summer and sunlight.
These illegal grow-ops operate without modern irrigation and agricultural science. Imagine what is possible if we used these tools in a regulated market.
No new major industry has been created in The Bahamas since majority rule. We still run the Stafford Sands economy, and won’t deviate.
Cannabis has the potential to be big business here if we change our mindset.
We destroy what they make money from
The U.S. is the richest and most powerful country in the world. Its intelligence and surveillance capabilities are unmatched. American aircraft – The Bahamas owns no helicopters, for example – transport Bahamian police to remote locations across the archipelago to raid marijuana fields.
For example, police reported the discovery of eight marijuana fields in North Andros in February following a joint operation between Bahamian and U.S. law enforcement. They uprooted nearly 95,000 plants, burning the fields.
What a waste.
As a country, we are using American intelligence and assets to travel around The Bahamas to destroy a commodity the Americans make billions of dollars from each year.
This is stupid.
We should be a legal competitor in the same cannabis marketplace the Americans are in. We are letting them help us destroy the supply of a country (The Bahamas) that should be making money just like them in a growing legal industry.
While we should maintain our cooperation with the U.S. on the trafficking of narcotics and other harmful substances, we need to legalize cannabis so that our cooperation no longer includes destroying a valuable Bahamian commodity.
What we should do
Countries do not shift from full marijuana prohibition one day to legalization the next.
The Bahamas should begin its legalization process by first decriminalizing marijuana for small possession. All that is required is a simple act of Parliament. There are numerous decriminalization statutes in the English-speaking world. We could choose one as the basis of our law.
With this, too, though, there should be relief for all abused over the years by a bogus law. The records of people convicted of small possession should be expunged.
Next, The Bahamas should move toward creating the regulatory and policy framework to legalize the growth of hemp and medical marijuana. Once legalized, industry would evolve. Jobs would be produced. Entrepreneurs would emerge.
As another measure of social justice, the records of those convicted of possession of larger quantities of marijuana and marijuana trafficking should be expunged.
It would be unfair to have a vibrant legal industry with people making millions while those who wanted to be in it under the old regime are burdened with criminal records.
The final step would be full legalization, including for recreational use. Marijuana should be considered like alcohol. It can be used for a simple, fun, recreational high, or it can be abused and cause harm through addiction.
We have long accepted that it makes more sense to regulate rather than prohibit alcohol. It is time to do the same with marijuana.
If other countries want to allow the U.S. to help them destroy valuable commodities on their territories, commodities the Americans make money from, let them. We should not be in that foolish camp.
In global capitalism, the greatest wealth is derived from ownership. A Bahamian-owed, Bahamian-run cannabis industry could generate significant wealth for our people. Let’s work toward that goal.