Time to make decisions on marijuana

The National Commission on Marijuana anti-climatically submitted a preliminary report and recommendations to the government on January 21, 2020, some nine months after its originally scheduled report date of April 2019.

The report was tabled in the House of Assembly on February 5.

The report calls for additional data to be explored before members of the commission make a final recommendation on the decriminalization of and the recreational use of marijuana.

The report comes after many months of discussion and consultation by commissioners with local, regional and international experts in the field; after a review of action taken by regional governments in relaxing laws controlling the possession and use of cannabis, and following a number of town hall meetings meant to garner the sentiments of the Bahamian public on the reform of laws which today criminalize possession, distribution or use of all cannabis/marijuana in The Bahamas.

While moving the conversation forward on a number of fronts by recommending, for example, the legalization of medicinal marijuana and the decriminalization of the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis for those 21 and over, the commissioners’ reluctance to make final recommendations is disappointing.

We believe that the data gathered by the commission and included in its preliminary report is sufficient to inform responsible policy adjustments and legislative reforms relating to the control of the production, possession, distribution and use of cannabis/marijuana in The Bahamas.

It seems to us that it is late to now propose further polling of the public on this matter.

There is demonstrated bipartisan parliamentary and public support for the relaxation of these laws.

This would be in keeping with the CARICOM recommendation in the summer of 2018 that cannabis be declassified as a dangerous drug and reclassified as a controlled substance.

The prime minister has clearly stated his conviction that individuals should not be incarcerated for possession of small amounts of the substance. The prime minister has similarly indicated support for expunging the police records of those previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

We are mystified as to the reasons which would prevent him from acting on his conviction by causing the government’s pardon or parole power to be executed.

We reiterate our support for the creation of a regulatory framework to legalize the growth of hemp; the legalization of the use of medical marijuana; the decriminalization of possession of defined quantities of cannabis/marijuana for recreational purposes; and expunging the records of all those convicted of possession of small quantities of the substance.

We also support the recommendation by the commission for the legalization of the substance as a sacrament for Rastafarians.

We are aware that much of the public conversation on the subject has involved the economic potential of a legalized cannabis/marijuana industry in The Bahamas.

We agree that the legalization of cannabis/marijuana can offer opportunities for gainful employment, though we have some reservation regarding the likelihood that a population historically adverse to agriculture will suddenly become avid farmers. Nor are we convinced that those engaged in the clandestine distribution of an illegal drug will overnight become members of an organized, regulated industry required to maintain product standards, record inventory and sales and pay taxes.

The legalization of the numbers houses may provide some insight into what may lie ahead.

In the instance of gaming, only those operators previously engaged in the clandestine industry were licensed by the government to operate legal numbers houses.

Do we dare think that those involved in the illegal distribution of cannabis/marijuana now will become disengaged? And dare we countenance that they be granted licences, as happened for the numbers people?

There is much food for thought.

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