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Advocates note pitfalls to avoid in potential marijuana industry

As the government pushes ahead with finalizing draft legislation to legalize medical marijuana, an advocacy group said it’s important The Bahamas does not allow the importation of cannabis plants if it wants to see a thriving industry.

Valentino Elliott, president of the organization Marijuana Bahamas, said he doesn’t believe the industry should allow the importation of marijuana and The Bahamas should develop, grow and then distribute its own unique strains to set its industry apart from others around the world.

“What we have to realize is that we’re coming into a relatively new market. Yes, the market has revenue generation potential, but we have to be mindful as to what we’re putting down. Our closest partner would maybe be Jamaica. Jamaica made the mistake to firstly inquire about importing most of its medicinal product, meaning they are at a huge disadvantage. But I saw this as a means of The Bahamas actually getting into that particular market. As we have islands that are separated, geographically we are set up in a better position, because if we’re growing various strains we need to be a particular distance from another strain. Once we have proper zoning in place, we can grow more strains than they can and the options are wider,” he told Guardian Business.

“I don’t see any reason why we would have to import, only if we wanted to rush the industry I can see them saying we’re going to start with importing. But once you start how will you stop?”

Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority does not currently allow the importation of marijuana plants. The country currently only allows licensee holders to import marijuana tinctures and extracts.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government was in the process of completing legislation to legalize medicinal marijuana, allowing it to be grown by Bahamians, utilized and exported.

The National Marijuana Commission has said that if it is decriminalized, a marijuana industry should be 51 percent owned by Bahamians.

However, Elliott said Bahamian ownership should be more.

“That’s my personal opinion. But I have to err on the side of being more business minded,” he said when asked if he believed the industry should be made exclusive to Bahamians.

“You’re going to have foreign persons interested and you’re going to want to attract them to your economy. So that’s another driving factor that we can actually have. But if we could have a majority owned Bahamian industry – say 75 or 80 percent – I would love to see that much owned by Bahamians or even more. I have no problem having a foreign company come in because it will increase our quality in a sense. We have a lot of persons here who want to get into the industry, but they lack the training for it. Those who have the training externally, they are going to have a particular standard. What I think the government should do is have a regulatory body that has a set standard and once that standard is kept you only can get better.”

Marijuana Bahamas founder Renaldo Cartwright met with Attorney General Carl Bethel this week to discuss the legislation.

“We just basically gave them an overview of some of the recommendations that we have on the table now as the organization Marijuana Bahamas. We haven’t released a full document as yet, it’s just a basic overview. But we wanted to engage them because this was actually the first formal meeting with any government official since we’ve been requesting, since 2018,” Elliott said.

“We were trying to engage them on talks of Marijuana Bahamas either becoming a consultant or consulting on the new legislation that they plan to put forward. We were assured that once the draft has been completed, the government would seek out us and other public stakeholders in the industry that it might affect; and they would give us first preference in viewing the document so that they can have a finalized, revised document before they release it.”

The cannabis advocate said what the organization wants the most is for the government to be innovative about creating a new medical marijuana industry.

“I’m hoping that the government really does consider every aspect of what it means to open up this industry to Bahamians, because we can benefit so much. I’m not just talking about us locally, we can benefit in so many different ways,” he said.

“It would give us a stable enough income for the next 50 to 100 years based on the projections that I have and the studies that I have done. I see it as a doorway opening to innovation, not just this industry but so many more things. It’s not just the medical and the recreational part of it, you have manufacturing aspects, construction aspects. I would like to see our government be more innovative because the marijuana industry is just the tip of the iceberg.”

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Paige McCartney

Paige joined The Nassau Guardian in 2010 as a television news reporter and anchor. She has covered countless political and social events that have impacted the lives of Bahamians and changed the trajectory of The Bahamas. Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016. Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News

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