Teen Challenge Bahamas Executive Director Eric Fox said yesterday the decriminalization of marijuana and expunging of records for possession of small amounts of the drug would be a vital step in empowering young Bahamians.
“I am very concerned with the records that young men get for small quantities of marijuana,” Fox said.
“Teen Challenge is an empowerment program and so when we think about empowering these young men, when we think about getting them documents, getting them jobs, helping them develop their skills, even getting them scholarships to going away…we run into this challenge where they have a record of possession.
“That is really disempowering for them when they have tried and here it is they have this record.”
Fox was speaking about recommendations made in a recently leaked report from the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana.
The draft report, which was obtained by The Nassau Guardian, recommended the legalization of medicinal marijuana and the decriminalization of the possession of up to one ounce of the substance.
It also said that individuals over 21 should be allowed to use marijuana for recreational purposes and that anyone over 18 should be allowed to use the substance for medicinal purposes.
A former user of marijuana and cocaine, Fox has been working with the Teen Challenge program for over 30 years.
Fox said many think of Teen Challenge Bahamas as a drug rehabilitation center, but it is actually an “empowerment center” that deals with young people with various life problems.
He said many of the young people he encounters through the program use marijuana to self-medicate.
“You find many reasons why people experiment with marijuana,” he said.
“If you look at the problems we have in The Bahamas with the deterioration of the family and in the homes, the different issues these young men face, a lot of them use marijuana to medicate so they can cope. And so, they don’t finish high school, their skills haven’t been developed.
“So, all this stuff causes them to sink even deeper and experiment more with using marijuana. I believe a certain quantity should be decriminalized.”
He added, “I have learned certain skills so I can now deal with my issues in a different way, rather than resorting to hiding it or medicating it. So, these are the skills that I try to teach young people.
“But at the same time, people are going to smoke. I can probably walk down the road and get marijuana. They sell it for $3 a bag, $5 a bag. People [are] smoking every day. There’s plenty of dope in this country. So, what are we going to do?
“Yes, I believe that people who are selling drugs in large quantities should be taken before the court. But, think about it. If police run into a young man with a joint, that’s a waste of resources. You’ve got to lock him up, drag him to the station, do paperwork, give him something to eat, take him to court and then he is going to get a charge.”
Asked about concerns that decriminalization and legalization of the drug could cause more instances of addiction, Fox said he does not believe the legality of marijuana has an effect on addiction rates.
“There are bars on every corner,” he said.
“Everybody doesn’t drink. There are lots of young people who don’t drink and they can go in the bar.
“…If someone wants to smoke, whether it’s legal or illegal, they’re going to smoke anyhow.”
Fox added, “There are people who are addicted to pharmaceutical drugs, people who are addicted to coffee, people who are addicted to abusing people, people who are addicted to power.
“…So, it’s like any other element of life.”
Fox said while he supports decriminalization, he believes there should be more public consultation on the question of the legalization of marijuana.
“My belief is that we need to have some sort of discussion on whether we should legalize certain quantities of marijuana,” he said.
“I’m not against it but I think we need to hear from the broader society, have some town meetings, get some feedback from people.”