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Commission split on legalizing weed

The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana is split on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use, noting in its preliminary report tabled in Parliament yesterday that more data needs to be explored to enable the commission to come to a consensus on the matter.

The commission does, however, recommend decriminalization of up to one ounce of cannabis.

“Some commissioners were not prepared, at this time, to recommend the legalization of cannabis for recreational use,” the report states.

“While Canada recently legalized cannabis for recreational purposes, as well as several states in the U.S., these commissioners are of the view that there is insufficient information to assess the full societal impact of moving in this direction.

“Some commissioners, therefore, recommended that more research be done, and additional data be obtained, to make an informed and responsible decision on the legalization of recreational use of cannabis at this time.

“It is also suggested that if cannabis possession is decriminalized in The Bahamas, comprehensive data be collected over the next few years to determine the societal impact this will have on drug prevalence, crime and other social issues.

“After this information is collected and analyzed, it is suggested that this issue be revisited.”

Other commissioners, however, believe that cannabis be legalized for recreational use for persons 21 years and older.

“They are of the view that legalization of cannabis for recreational use will reduce the inherent criminal activities associated with the black market and will provide avenues for cannabis users to get better products from legitimate sources.

“This group of commissioners are also of the view that the revenue generated from the sale of cannabis for recreational cannabis will provide enormous economic benefits for The Bahamas.”

The report notes that the commissioners are aware that decriminalization is in effect a form of legalization of the recreational use of cannabis, as it is in effect authorizing persons to possess up to an ounce of cannabis.

“It is recognized that this poses a paradox, as decriminalization on its own, does not provide a legitimate and legal means for persons to obtain their supply of cannabis,” the report read.

“It is appreciated that decriminalization may further facilitate the already existing illegal black market for persons to obtain cannabis, which has its inherent law enforcement challenges.

“Over the years, statements from the Ministry of National Security and the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) have confirmed that ‘turf wars’ in the illicit drug market, which on the local scene involves predominantly cannabis, [have] resulted in the commission of violent crimes.”

The report adds, “If, alternatively, provisions are made for regulated facilities to supply less than an ounce to persons 21 years and older in an attempt to eradicate or reduce the black market, this is in effect the legalization of the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.”

The commission also recommends the legalization of the use of marijuana as a sacrament for Rastafarians.

It recommends that a Rastafarian council be established to register and regulate Rastafarian groups.

The report also states that those using marijuana for medicinal purposes will be allowed to cultivate sufficient plants to ensure they have access to the amount of marijuana needed for their medical conditions.

Additionally, it also recommends that tourists who have been prescribed marijuana for medical use in their own countries be allowed to obtain marijuana for medical use in The Bahamas.

The legalization of the importation of regulated cannabis products to treat ailments is also recommended.

It is also recommended that an independent authority be established to regulate and oversee the cannabis industry.

Additionally, the commissioners recommend the expungement of criminal records for simple possession of cannabis, something Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis publicly supports.


Reform

Minnis, who tabled the report, said his government will change the laws with respect to marijuana use.

“My government will use this report to assist with changing our marijuana laws,” he said.

Minnis said marijuana reform is a matter of social justice.

“It is essential that we change our marijuana laws,” he said.

“The unfairness must stop. We must stop stigmatizing many of our young people and citizens.

“This is a matter of social justice. This is a matter of fairness.”

Minnis added, “We arrest, prosecute, detain and punish people for possession of small quantities of the plant, which they use for religious, personal, or medical reasons.”

He said the criminal records resulting from those arrests hamper the progress of a large number of Bahamians by making it difficult to find jobs and travel.

“Once our reform laws are passed and through proper legal mechanisms and procedures, I also support the release from prison of any person who may be solely incarcerated for small marijuana possession,” he said.

The prime minister said the government will embark on a nationwide campaign to educate the public on marijuana.

“This program will be age-appropriate and target all segments of society, including a focus on school children and individuals under the age of 21,” he said.

Minnis said marijuana reform will work in tandem with his administration’s broader efforts to “change how we treat people with criminal convictions”.

He said the criminal justice system should not be solely about punishment, but also fairness, rehabilitation and mercy.

“For minor offenses and for young, first-time offenders, we should not hold convictions over their heads and lives for a lifetime,” he said.

Minnis said the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, which began its work last year, will be provided with everything it needs to perform its duties.

“We want to give our fellow Bahamians who have changed, and who are willing to change, a freedom and future they have been deprived of, because of minor, and in some cases, decades-old offenses.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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