National Review

Spotlight on cannabis

Will PLP follow through on marijuana pledge?

The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has pledged to “develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for growing, harvesting and exporting cannabis so that the industry creates opportunities for many, not just a few”.

Agriculture Minister Clay Sweeting is hopeful that legislation to make such an industry a reality is passed before year’s end.

“You have persons with medical conditions who could definitely benefit from it. That’s one aspect,” Sweeting told National Review.

“I think it can also be a source for a new industry for The Bahamas. I definitely support medicinal use. I have a son who could benefit from it because he has a condition and that could be something that can assist him, so I think that when it hits home it’s a different ballgame altogether.

“I think it will be good for the country. It will be something that Family Islanders can expand in the agriculture sector as well.”

In pursing the cannabis path, the Davis administration would do well to take into consideration the extensive recommendations and body of research compiled by The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana appointed in October 2018 and co-chaired by former Deputy Commissioner of Police Quinn McCartney and Bishop Simeon Hall.

The commission presented its report to then-Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis on August 31, 2021, two weeks before the general election in which voters removed Minnis and the Free National Movement from office.

Though The Nassau Guardian previously reported on a leaked draft preliminary report, the final report was never made public – until now.

Recommendations:

In the final report, the commission makes a series of recommendations.

A key recommendation is that the necessary amendments be made to the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) that will facilitate the legalization and regulation of cannabis for medical purposes and provide for the proper regulation as it relates to cultivation, processing and distribution of cannabis and cannabis-based products for people prescribed to utilize cannabis for medical purposes.

The commission recommended that the prescription of cannabis be treated the same as any other psychoactive drug.

It also recommended that people who are prescribed cannabis for medical use be allowed to grow sufficient plants (at various stages of growth) to ensure that they have access to the amount of product for their condition, and where they are not capable to grow the plant themselves, to allow a licensed relative or caregiver, over the age of 21 years, to grow the quantity of plants they need.

The commission recommends that provisions be made for individuals who are prescribed cannabis for medical use, and who cannot cultivate or who do not have a person to cultivate for them, to be able to have affordable access to a supply of cannabis from regulated dispensaries or pharmacies.

Additionally, it recommends that the necessary amendments be made to the act to maintain that possession of cannabis is illegal for recreational use, but to decriminalize the possession of small amounts, and that the amount of cannabis that a person over the age of 21 can possess for personal use, and not receive a criminal record, be one ounce.

The commission suggests that the amount set for decriminalization be reviewed every two years after comprehensive analysis/impact studies are conducted.

It says the relevant laws should be amended at the earliest opportunity for the immediate expungement of the criminal records of all individuals convicted of possession of cannabis.

The final report said, “Commissioners are aware that decriminalization is in effect a form of legalization of the recreational use of cannabis, as it is essentially 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.

“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.”

The commission recommends that the Dangerous Drugs Act be amended to allow Rastafarians, and other religious groups with cannabis as a sacrament, to possess and use cannabis for sacramental purposes.

It also recommends that Rastafarians and other religious groups with cannabis as a sacrament be permitted to cultivate cannabis in zoned and regulated areas.

On the point of legalization of cannabis for recreational use, the commission recommends that it, or another government established entity, be allowed to continue work, including further literature and data searches, and consultations, with respect to legalization of cannabis for recreational use.

The commission recommends that provisions be made in law to ensure that any business involved in the cannabis industry is Bahamian-owned with Bahamian ownership being at least 51 percent, and that foreign companies can partner with Bahamians and can hold up to a maximum of 49 percent equity in the company.

“Provisions must be made to ensure that there is active involvement of Bahamians in all aspects of a licensed business,” the commission says.

Additionally, the commission says provisions should be made for the taxation of the cannabis industry and that the funds generated from the taxation be utilized to operate an independent authority and to regulate the industry.

“It is recommended that taxation should not be excessive,” the commission says.

In its “Blueprint for Change”, the PLP pledged to “encourage joint ventures in the medicinal cannabis industry”.

Attitudes

The commission’s final report includes the results of a survey conducted by local market research and strategy firm Public Domain, which conducted a survey in late 2020. The firm interviewed 1,000 residents (who confirmed they were 18 or older), who were identified by random telephone number selection throughout The Bahamas.

The use of cannabis for medical use was found to have very strong support (84 percent) by the respondents.

More men (87 percent) showed support, compared to 82 percent of the women surveyed.

There was widespread support across age categories, with the greatest support being among respondents 18 – 34 years old (90 percent), and those 35 – 54.

Support for making medical use available in The Bahamas was still strong among the older respondents (74 percent).

Outlining further results of the Public Domain Survey, the commission also stated in its final report:

Respondents were asked about doctors prescribing cannabis products for children. If prescribed by a doctor, 58 percent of those surveyed said that they think parents should allow their children to take medical cannabis.

When asked about how medical cannabis should be distributed, if it was legalized, most of the respondents (57 percent) showed a preference for it to be distributed in a structured environment such as a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or a stand-alone dispensary.

Most respondents (55 percent), however, did not support people being able to grow cannabis at home.

If the decision is made, however, to allow individuals to grow the plant for their use, 74 percent believe there should be some restrictions, such as the number of plants that can be grown, the size, etc.

Support is less strong for legalization of cannabis for religious reasons, and even less for its adult recreational use.

On the issue of whether cannabis should be allowed for religious purposes, 45 percent did not agree that it should be legalized for sacramental purposes.

Forty percent were opposed to its use, and 15 percent responded that they did not know if it should be allowed, or that they were unsure.

The support of adult recreational use of cannabis is associated with age, the survey found.

Support stands at 50 percent among the 18 – 34 age group, with support decreasing for the older age groups – 36 percent among the 35 – 54-year-olds, and 22 percent among those that were 55 and older.

It should be noted that men are evenly divided on legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use and women more strongly oppose, the commission said.

The results also showed the following:

There is support for changing the current legal regime, including decriminalization, and expunging the records of those convicted of cannabis possession.

There is strong support for the adoption of a legal framework that would regulate cultivation, production, and distribution of cannabis-related products.

There is also strong support for limitations on access to cannabis for those under 20 and for restrictions on cannabis use in public spaces.

There is strong support for Bahamian ownership of any cannabis-related industry.

“It is clear that as with the rest of world, the attitudes of Bahamians towards cannabis are shifting across all age groups,” the commission said.

“To illustrate, during the commission’s work, the fact that discussions were had, sometimes in church buildings, is in itself an indicator that change has come, and the previous largely negative perception of the cannabis plant is being looked at differently.”

The commission added, “The shifting attitudes towards cannabis by Bahamians, however, can be described as cautious. There is support for liberalization and a revisitation of attitudes towards the mysterious plant, but the impression is that perhaps Bahamians might want the changes to occur incrementally”.

Future

Speaking in the House of Assembly in October 2020, then-Prime Minister Minnis said the government will review the possible legalization of a hemp industry that would include variations of cannabis low in THC (the main compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation).

Minnis tabled the executive summary submitted by the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), which recommended the full legalization of marijuana for medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes coupled with an appropriate but nimble regulatory regime that oversees the production and manufacturing, sale, consumption, and export of marijuana.

Of course, none of that materialized under the previous administration.

Asked yesterday whether the Davis administration will make use of the report of the marijuana commission, Sweeting, the agriculture minister, said this is a matter the attorney general will need to address.

National Review sent Attorney General Ryan Pinder a message yesterday morning asking the same question, but we had not gotten a response up to last night.

In January 2020, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Davis called then-PM Minnis’ promised cannabis reform “public relations gimmickry” and later questioned why the Minnis administration was taking so long on marijuana legislation.

It will be interesting to see how long the current administration takes to push this issue into the spotlight.

Sweeting said on Monday, “I would hope that it would be sooner than later because I will like to see the benefits of the industry within a few years, so I would hope that within a year we are able to successfully get it to where it needs to be.”

Show More

Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

Related Articles

Check Also
Close
Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please support our local news by turning off your adblocker