Monday, Sep 23, 2019
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Marijuana business hopefuls approach govt

A marijuana plant is seen in this photo. Government has received approximately 10 letters of interest for marijuana processing and cultivation and for the import of marijuana-based products to The Bahamas. AP

The government has received approximately 10 letters of interest for marijuana processing and cultivation and for the import of marijuana-based products, according to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands in an interview with Perspective.

This as Bahamas National Marijuana Commission co-chair Quinn McCartney, who spoke to Perspective last week, advised that the long-awaited commission report that was expected to be delivered to government by the end of August is now not likely to be presented until sometime near the end of October, owing to “logistics”.

Sands indicated that of the letters of interest received from Bahamians desirous of entering the marijuana business, “two or three” are from Bahamian groups with foreign partners.

But he pointed out that no formal assessments of the requests can be conducted at this time given the country’s existing legislative framework.

“Given the framework outlined, we have granted no licenses or permissions,” he advised. “The [Dangerous Drugs] Act allows for permission to be granted by the minister in special cases for medical or scientific purposes. We have granted no such permission.

“All applicants have been advised to await the recommendations of the commission.”

The marijuana commission’s report is central to the government’s determinations on the way forward for cannabis in The Bahamas.

Earlier this year, Sands announced that the commission required a three-month extension to August to complete its work. That work was to include trips to Jamaica and Canada to assess the marijuana industry in both jurisdictions.

Regarding those trips, McCartney said, “We are still working through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the proper protocols government to government, and so we are waiting on that to happen.”

Cannabis in Canada is legal for medicinal and recreational use. Meanwhile, Jamaica is continuing to position itself in the medicinal marijuana market, reporting its first shipment of medicinal marijuana to Canada last September.

According to a report by the Jamaica Observer, the shipment was a first step in Jamaica’s quest to become “the medical marijuana hub for the world”.

This latest delay in the submission of the commission’s report will no doubt come as disappointing news for Bahamians who insist that The Bahamas is losing ground in capitalizing on the global demand for medicinal marijuana.

It is also likely to come as unwelcome news for Bahamians who are hopeful that the commission’s findings might lead to a decriminalization or legalization of cannabis in The Bahamas.

Notable among them is the country’s Rastafarian community, which planned to file suit against the government for the freedom to utilize marijuana as part of its religious faith.

Commission co-chair Bishop Simeon Hall, in response to the planned suit, told The Nassau Guardian that while he respected the position of Rastafarians as a religious group, they should wait until the commission completes its work.

“My unsolicited advice would be for them to wait until the commission is completed in its task to survey the views of the Bahamian people,” he said. “That’s basically what we are mandated to do. At the end of that task we will make recommendations to the government. It is ultimately the government [which] is going to implement the positions and the position of marijuana.”

McCartney pointed out that since the commission’s members are all employed in full-time jobs of their own, some of the work has had to be coordinated on everyone’s off-times, though he assured that work is still continuing behind the scenes until such time as logistics for its visits to Jamaica and Canada are squared away.

The use of cannabis-based products such as cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been growing in popularity and interest in The Bahamas, and commercial food-grade hemp products (which contain no psychoactive properties) such as hemp seed, hemp protein, etc. have been imported and sold in stores across the country for years.

But that all came to a grinding halt when Sands announced to Parliament that the importation of such products would be prohibited until the government makes a determination on cannabis arising from the marijuana commission’s recommendations.

“Notwithstanding the fact that everybody is excited about the fact we’re discussing changes in our approach and that they may have changed the laws in Canada and parts of the U.S., the Dangerous Drugs Act remains in force,” Sands told Parliamentarians.

“The act recognizes CBD and hemp as illegal so whether you think it should be illegal or don’t think it should be illegal, right now it’s illegal. We have not changed any laws.”

Following what he said were meetings at that time with the Customs Department and the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the determination was made that no hemp, CBD, THC, marijuana or cannabis products would be permitted for import.

“No one is going to be using unless they already have a license to import,” Sands advised. “Those creams, lotions, ointments, salves that you see anywhere, if they have been imported without a license then they are illegal.”

“The problem is that if you don’t remind people of the law, some people will take advantage of this scenario and they will claim that it is ambiguous,” he added.

“It’s not ambiguous. We have paneled a marijuana commission. They’re not done with their work. It would be absurd of me to have a panel who is working, and then to issue a series of licenses ostensibly around them with no regard to their deliberation. It means that I would have presupposed the outcome.”

It was a decision that was roundly criticized by businesspersons who prior to the announcement had been permitted to import and sell food-grade hemp products and products containing CDB oil.

Sands, meanwhile, revealed to Perspective that since the government’s announcement of the restriction on CBD oil and CBD oil products, customs has made seizures of the product scientifically linked to effective treatments of conditions including Alzheimers, seizures, chronic inflammation and arthritis.

As for the way forward, Sands said a review process of the commission’s recommendations will commence once its report is submitted.

“After receipt of the commission report, it will be reviewed by the Ministry of Health and a formal Cabinet paper will be presented inclusive of the report, the recommendations of the ministry arising from the report and other pertinent information,” he stated.

From there, Cabinet is expected to make a determination on policy and/or legislative changes moving forward.

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