Sunday, May 19, 2019
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Cooper right on need to shift marijuana policy

Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper articulated sensible policy in the House of Assembly yesterday. We hope the government listened.

The marijuana laws in The Bahamas need to change.

Two countries in our hemisphere have fully legalized the plant: Uruguay and Canada. In the United States, marijuana is fully legal in 10 states. Medical marijuana is legal in 33.

In countries around the world where legalization has not happened, there are various forms of decriminalization. The Netherlands and Jamaica are examples of this.

It is abusive and a waste of police and court time to arrest, detain, prosecute and fine or incarcerate Bahamians just because they have one or two joints in their possession.

This senseless practice has harmful consequences. If a young man were arrested on Friday night for having a joint, he would be kept in a cell at a police station until Monday at the earliest before being taken to court.

If he were scheduled to work during that period, and his employer found out about the arrest, he’d likely be terminated.

Fortunately, magistrates these days see the senselessness of these laws and give discharges and small fines. But even with that damage is done to those arrested, detained and prosecuted.

There is widespread consensus in The Bahamas that it is an abuse to treat our people this way for small possession of marijuana. The government should move immediately to decriminalize possession of small quantities of the plant.

“Why do we still have laws arresting and charging and convicting persons with possession of small quantities of marijuana, which ultimately results in the criminalizing mainly of our young men?” Cooper, the Exumas and Ragged Island MP, asked in the House of Assembly.

“This is a failed policy, Mr. Speaker, and no doubt we will come to this and no doubt we will define what small qualities should be.

“No doubt, Mr. Speaker, we will set the guidelines on these issues to ensure social responsibility.

“Not only should we stop this immediately across The Bahamas, but we need to reexamine in this place, as soon as possible and practical, the quantities that meet the threshold of possession with intent to supply.

“And Mr. Speaker, we as a matter of national emergency should examine the laws and the guidelines to expunge the records of all those convicted of the possession of small quantities to be determined and defined.”

Cooper is right.

The government established a marijuana commission to examine our laws. It is still doing its work. We do not need that commission’s report, however, to exercise common sense. Decriminalizing for small possession and expunging the records of people with these convictions is something the government could do now.

“As responsible leaders we must take care not to make criminals out of our young men and women,” said Cooper.

“We are giving these people criminal records and forcing them into the underworld as they can’t get jobs and they can’t obtain a U.S. visa to travel to the U.S.

“I am a proponent, Mr. Speaker, of personal responsibility as well, but I say what do we expect when we impose the unintended consequence of making criminals out of our young men?

“…I support the legalization of medical cannabis, as I said before, and I repeat, I support the decriminalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana.

“The world has moved on this issue Mr. Speaker, and it may be a risky position but it’s my position”

Let’s free up our police to spend their time finding real criminals. Let’s stop wasting our magistrates’ time hearing marijuana cases so they could address matters that are important. And most importantly, let’s stop harassing and mistreating our citizens through the continuation of backward laws that do more harm than good in The Bahamas.

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