Front Porch | Decriminalizing marijuana: a matter of social justice
There appears to be domestic consensus on allowing the use of marijuana for medical or therapeutic purposes once prescribed by a medical doctor. This includes a consensus among healthcare professionals and many religious leaders and denominations.
The scientific and medical research and case for marijuana to help to alleviate pain and suffering for diseases such as cancer, various types of arthritis and epilepsy, among other ailments and conditions, is overwhelming.
Cannabis may also be used as an anti-anxiety medication and a treatment for various mental illnesses.
A number of senior political leaders and others have lent their strong support and voices to help promote the use of medical marijuana. Many advocates and observers believe that allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes is a humane and ethical response to human suffering.
Globally, many people now use cannabis as an analgesic for pain management and palliative care to treat the symptoms of a number of diseases and the side effects of various treatments.
Additionally, as described on the healthline website: “Many in the medical marijuana community refer to cannabis as an effective treatment, with little to no side effects, for a range of sleeping disorders.
“‘Marijuana is an effective sleep aid because it restores a person’s natural sleep cycle, which so often falls out of sync with our schedules in today’s modern lifestyle,’ says Dr. Matt Roman, a medical marijuana physician.”
There also appears to be significant and growing support for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, though not apparently the same level of support as for allowing the use of medical marijuana.
Last year, after his return from a July CARICOM meeting in Jamaica, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis noted that the Cabinet would appointment a committee to study and to review the use of marijuana in The Bahamas and to offer recommendations.
The committee was constituted and is co-chaired by Bishop Simeon Hall and former Deputy Commissioner of Police Quinn McCartney.
The committee, which has gauged public opinion and has traveled to jurisdictions such as Jamaica and Canada, is soon scheduled to offer its report. Any proposed changes accepted by the Cabinet will be debated in Parliament.
Last year this journal reported: “The Regional Commission on Marijuana, which presented its report to CARICOM on the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana in the region, put forward the view that, in a regulated framework, marijuana should be treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol.
“According to the regional commission report, The Bahamas could see a financial benefit of around $5 million from the legalization of the substance and regulation of its sale, but advocacy groups suggest that figure is far too conservative, and if considered beyond domestic use, it is over $1 billion.”
According to the website 420 Intel: “The report is expected to address the medical, industrial, economic, religious and ceremonial, and recreational use of cannabis, as well as research and development – codifying Bahamian attitudes on plant use.”
The website further reported: “When asked if the commission has made specific recommendations for The Bahamas to proceed with marijuana, McCartney said: ‘We may not come down on the side specifically of any particular recommendation, but we certainly will be looking at the pros and cons of any decision that we make.
“‘The commission has not at this point taken a stand on any one issue and said we are for or against any particular issue, but I think it’s safe to say we are going to be guided by what’s happening in other countries.’”
Even as the committee is finalizing its report, another government committee, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, headed by former Police Commissioner Paul Farquharson, is working on a process as reported by The Tribune, to help “young and first-time offenders, especially those convicted of drug possession crimes, to get their criminal records expunged”.
Farquharson informed the daily: “Our young people and first-time offenders have been carrying around the burden of records and offenses after they have served their time, paid their debt to society and still these records exist against their name.”
“With drugs, which I believe probably has the most offenders among our young people, there are many people who are victims, they have made mistakes and they are now toeing the straight line so we need to accelerate the process of trying to clear their name once they have paid their due debt to society.”
The former commissioner noted: “If you were to take a poll among young people, a whole lot of them have tried marijuana.
“Unfortunately, some of them get caught and there are a lot of people who haven’t been caught who may have tried it before, so I am particularly interested in the young people and giving them another chance, those who certainly toed a straight line, made a mistake once and therefore to have that record linger against their name, preventing them from getting a job, going to college, traveling, we have to do a better job than that as a country.”
The Tribune reported: “National Security Minister Marvin Dames announced the constitution of the new committee on September 25 , saying ex-convicts are discriminated against too often. This is a part of a package officials hope will include a parole system as the country inches toward a less punitive and more rehabilitative justice system.”
If the government and the country are truly committed to expunging the criminal records of many young people convicted for the possession of a small amount of marijuana, it seems to follow that such small amounts should be decriminalized.
If such small amounts remain illegal then we will continue a nonsensical criminal justice merry-go-round in which small amounts of cannabis possession is criminalized and then those convicted must then apply to have a record expunged, all of which would be a colossal waste of state resources and time.
There is a strong ethical case for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. There is an equally strong public policy case in terms of police resources and the better application of state resources.
And there is a strong political case for decriminalization to which the current administration and the opposition should pay heed as it appears that most Bahamians no longer believe that some young people especially should have to spend the rest of their lives paying an often terrible price for having used or using marijuana.
Moreover, it is abundantly clear that young grassroots Bahamians endure a greater burden from marijuana possession than peers from more economically privileged homes.
Next week: The ethical, public policy and political case for decriminalization.