Letters

Combat ignorance with education in debate on hemp industry 

Dear Editor, 

The prime minister’s remarks regarding expunging the records of those convicted for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana is a refreshing tone. That the discussion on decriminalizing and industrializing hemp in The Bahamas has resurfaced is also promising. There are, of course, many ideas that can be tossed into the hat, and many are viable economic drivers. The rapid expansion and global demand for hemp, and hemp-based products, however, makes it a more immediately lucrative investment.

The Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) has but one function in my view. They are the shepherds of souls now living, through the pasture of life; preparing souls for their eventual journey to the afterlife. They do not have statutory authority. No matter how you wish to interpret the preamble of our constitution, they have no inherent power – not vested by legislation, at least.

They do have a tremendous collective influence, and the reality is that many people absolve themselves of questioning what emanates from the BCC. I only wish when they criticize, they would do so objectively and not disabuse Bahamians of the opportunity to hear all sides of the argument.

With everything we do in life there is an associated risk. Thankfully, we live in a free and democratic society. Members of a free and democratic society should be allowed, whether to their benefit or peril, to avail themselves of personal agency over their lives. This is why alcohol is legal, but controlled; tobacco is legal, but controlled; Benzodiazepine is legal, but controlled. Two of these three addictive substances are regulated by an age limit and the third must be prescribed by a licensed medical doctor. What would make marijuana any different?

A hemp industry does not necessarily come with a decriminalized or legalized marijuana industry – a fact conveniently left out of public discourse. Paper products, hemp composite materials for vehicles, hemp building materials and hemp bio-plastic all involve cultivation of the plant without preservation of the flowers. There is more to a marijuana plant than the parts you can smoke.

Modern science also favors CBD products, a by-product of cannabis, as a substitute for a class of prescription drugs generally classified as opioids. Pain management is a big problem for many Bahamians. Sometimes the medication prescribed, though it does help, does more harm and can cause serious addiction.

Prescription drugs such as Pethidine and Fentanyl are in the same family of drugs as heroin. Heroin shares this category in the Dangerous Drugs Act with amphetamines and cocaine. These are highly addictive substances, yet the equally addictive prescription variants of these drugs are widely available. With the brilliant scientific minds we have in The Bahamas, we can develop products for safely managing acute and general pain that comes with a negligible risk of addiction.

One of the points made in the BCC’s recent statement to the media was: “Coupled with many other serious issues that the country is facing in recent times, including but not limited to, ongoing criminal activity such as murders that have included a number of innocent children, the impact of Hurricane Dorian and more recently the invasion of COVID-19, we, like many Bahamians, were a little surprised that the prime minister and his government would decide to still press forward with matters relating to marijuana when there are so many other more important matters that need addressing.”

There is no reason that murder, natural disasters or the pandemic need to be part of the discourse on hemp, cannabis or marijuana. It is unfortunate that murders occur, and that such criminality is part of Bahamian society. Like every other Bahamian with a heart, I am gutted every time an innocent life is taken, particularly the life of a child. Hurricane Dorian was a tragedy in every sense of the word. I know of no way to fully express the sorrow we all collectively feel, and those who lived through it are still coping with the trauma daily. The pandemic wasn’t so much the problem as much as the government’s handling of it was, but that’s a different story.

The point is, it is unfair to class the decriminalization of cannabis in the category of murders, natural disasters and incidents of force majeure. There is an argument to be made that a regulated cannabis industry would provide the income that so many desperately need, which would disincentivize criminal behavior. There is an argument to be made that filling the coffers of the Public Treasury would provide an adequate cushion following a natural disaster. There is no reason that the discussion on decriminalizing and regulating hemp cannot be had simultaneously with other government business.

We cannot continue to allow opinions that lack objectivity to flourish untested. What we need to combat ignorance is education. Respect the Bahamian people enough to put all of the information on the table — the good, the bad and everything in between.

We should be encouraging public discourse on this subject, not trying to mute it and stymie progress. We all remember fondly the last two referendums and the way that progress was hijacked. A secular point was militated against by a lack of objectivity, and propaganda led to the rights of women being re-fastened into second place. I believe education is the cure for uncertainty. That is what we need more of in the discussions related to hemp, cannabis and marijuana.

I.A. Nicholas Mitchell,

CML Chambers

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