Legalize cannabis — Economic Recovery Committee suggests hybrid approach strict controls

Legalize cannabis — Economic Recovery Committee suggests hybrid approach strict controls

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Economic Recovery Committee has recommended the government legalize the cannabis industry in The Bahamas with strict controls that would allow production, consumption, and exportation of the plant.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis tabled the committee’s executive summary in Parliament on Wednesday.

The committee noted there is the widespread use of marijuana globally.

It said with the increasing incarceration of marijuana users, civic and philanthropic stakeholders have pressured governments to review existing laws on the substance with a view of legalizing or decriminalizing.

The committee wrote that a “hybrid approach” that included decriminalization for small amounts and legalization with strict regulatory control would offer an opportunity for economic growth, increased employment, increased revenue from excise and value-added taxes, and a decrease in crime as “criminal elements would no longer be suppliers and distributors”.

It recommended full legalization of cannabis for medicinal, religious, and recreational use coupled with an “appropriate but nimble regulatory regime” to oversee the production, manufacturing, sale, consumption, and exportation of cannabis.

To this end, the committee said a regulatory organization would need to be established with a mandate to oversee the authorization, inspection, and enforcement for all people engaged in the industry, ranging from production to technical support and development.

According to the report, Crown Land should be made available to Bahamians to cultivate cannabis and manufacture cannabis-based products, with special provisions for small scale farmers and the Rastafarian communities.

It said training courses could be provided through the Ministry of Agriculture and Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute to teach Bahamians how to farm and produce the plant and products.

The ERC recommended the government avoid over-regulation of the market.

It said this could sustain a black market for small producers and retailers who do not have the means to navigate complex bureaucracies.

The committee also recommended that CBD products be permitted to be traded with minimal restrictions.

The committee also put forward policies to ensure local participation in the cannabis industry, recommending that all businesses engaged in the production and manufacturing should conform to the requirements of Invest Bahamas, and at minimum, have at least 50 percent Bahamian ownership.

It said this was consistent with the investment regime it recommended on other economic advancement opportunities.

The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, comprised of a cross-section of society, green-lighted recreational and medicinal use of marijuana in its preliminary report and suggested Bahamians should own 51 percent of the industry in a legalized environment.

Among its recommendations, the commission proposed the substance be decriminalized and persons be allowed to have a maximum of one ounce of the drug in their possession without prosecution.

The commission has been reactivated until June 2021 and has begun looking at 24 recommendations where there was consensus in more detail, according to the commission co-chair Quinn McCartney, a former deputy commissioner of police.

In its report, the Economic Recovery Committee recommended possession of marijuana for personal use be allowed up to two ounces for adults, aged 18 and older, and unapproved amounts greater than that be punishable with a fine only.

The committee recommended the allowance of cafés, resorts, and guesthouses to provide for on-premise consumption of cannabis, subject to special licensing arrangements as a means to support potential cannabis-related leisure, medicinal, and tourist subindustries.

The committee refers to the economic impact and timeline for legalization in the medium term.

Numerous countries in the Caribbean have adopted varied approaches to cannabis, with some decriminalizing or moving toward decriminalization or outright liberalizing the use of the substance.

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.