PM: Release small possession inmates

People in prison for the possession of small amounts of marijuana should be released, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis declared yesterday, noting that Bahamian marijuana users should not be considered “criminals”.

“Once our reformed laws are passed and through proper legal mechanisms and procedures, I also support the release from prison of all those who are solely in prison for small marijuana possession,” Minnis said.

He added, “I only want to say one thing to [TheGuardian. You heard exactly what I said. I do not want to see a headline tomorrow: Minnis wants to release all prisoners full stop. I did not say that.”

Minnis’ comments came as The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana submitted its preliminary marijuana report to him during a ceremony at the Office of the Prime Minister.

The commission was formed in 2018 and tasked with examining the issue of marijuana in The Bahamas in order to make recommendations to the government.

Its recommendations are expected to be tabled and discussed in Parliament.

In recent months, Minnis has been vocal in his support for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and the legalization of medical marijuana.

Yesterday, he said that The Bahamas’ current marijuana “prohibition causes unnecessary confrontations between police and citizens”.

“Reforming our marijuana laws and changing how we treat people with conviction of possession of small amounts is a matter of social justice and fairness,” Minnis said.

“It is the decent and moral thing to do. As a country, we should not consider Bahamian marijuana users as criminals.”

He added, “Our laws regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana have unfortunately led to the arrest, prosecution, conviction and punishment of countless Bahamians who used the plant for religious purposes, personal or medical reasons.”

The prime minister said he has seen “first-hand how our laws especially harm young people from modest backgrounds”.

“Many good Bahamians have been burdened with criminal records, making travel to certain countries impossible and finding work more difficult,” he said.

The commission’s formation came after the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana recommended the declassification of marijuana as a dangerous drug in all legislation and the reclassification of the drug as a controlled substance, noting it should be treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol.

The findings of the CARICOM commission have reignited a national discussion on the legalization of marijuana in The Bahamas.

This has led clergy, politicians, academics and other figures to chime into the discussion.

Yesterday, Minnis said, “There are those who say they support marijuana reform. When they were in office they did nothing. Yet they have all manner of big talk now despite their glaring failures to act when they had the opportunity to help those burdened by criminal convictions for small amounts of marijuana possessions.

“The work of social justice is about action not about endless and empty talk from those who failed to act decisively when last in office.”

Since the formation of the commission, two former prime ministers and former Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, who now serves as leader of the opposition, have expressed support for the legalization of medicinal marijuana or decriminalization of recreational marijuana.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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