NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Government yesterday unveiled a compendium of legislation that seeks to decriminalize cannabis for medical, research and religious use.
The legislative suite comprises 11 bills, with the central component being the Cannabis Bill of 2023. This bill establishes a framework for local cannabis production to meet medical needs, create economic opportunities, and regulate the industry.
The proposal covers various aspects, including medical cannabis prescriptions. Doctors would be able to prescribe cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering for specific conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. Special training would be mandatory for doctors opting for this option.
“There are many Bahamians, some who suffer from debilitating illness such as end-stage cancers and various forms of depression that are not responsive to clinical therapy and post-traumatic stress,” Health and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville noted.
“These people are traveling abroad to access these therapies. They always reach out to the Ministry to bring the product into the country. The time has come to take cannabis off the Dangerous Drugs Act and make it a controlled substance for it to be grown in The Bahamas and protected.”
Additionally, the legislation accommodates the religious use of cannabis by Rastafarians under specific licenses. Cannabis for recreational use will not be allowed.
A significant proposal involves decriminalizing the possession of small amounts (under 30 grams) of cannabis. While fines would still apply, this move aims to eliminate criminal violations and enable the expungement of records related to such possession.
The Cannabis Bill of 2023 aims to establish a Bahamas Cannabis Authority. This authority would be responsible for controlling cannabis access, legal production, medical, scientific, and religious handling, as well as quality assurance and public awareness of associated health risks.
This authority would be governed by a board responsible for efficiently handling and safely storing cannabis. It would issue licenses, maintain a public register, develop enforcement procedures, and establish tracking and compliance monitoring systems.
Individual licensees must be Bahamian and at least 21 years old. For legal entities, various license types require Bahamian ownership percentages, with cultivation reserved for 100 percent Bahamian ownership.
The bill sets THC concentration limits to safeguard against misuse and mandates training for medical practitioners prescribing cannabis. Dispensing would be limited to trained pharmacists, with tracking systems to monitor cannabis handling.
Offenses related to unlawful possession, supply, and misrepresentation are defined, with fixed penalties for possession of under 30 grams. Payment of a proposed $250 fine within a specified time would avoid a criminal record. The legislation also proposes expunging records for such possessions.
Attorney General Ryan Pinder stated: “Ideally, we would like to be in a position towards the end of October to take into consideration all of the comments through consultation and be able to table the bill in Parliament. The goal would be to debate them by the end of this calendar year because there is a lot of work that has to go into setting up the authority; there is training, certifications, the digital platform for tracing and prescriptions and all of that has to be done before the licenses are issued. We would like to take the first half of 2024 to undertake that because we think it’s going to be a very involved process. We would want to have the authority up and running before next budget cycle.”
Pinder would not place a value on the country’s cannabis industry but noted that it would provide numerous economic opportunities.
“We have a number of licenses that will be in place and opportunities for Bahamians to participate and we look forward to their participation. We do believe this is going to have a positive economic impact. Will it take the country into another hemisphere of economic development, I don’t personally think so but I do think it’s going to be a factor toward economic growth and diversification for Bahamians,” said Pinder.
Darville described the regulatory framework as “very tight,” highlighting that there are security measures in place regarding cultivation, transportation, location and regulations regarding second-hand smoke.
“In the current legislation, Indian hemp is on the Dangerous Drug Act and we believe that a big mistake is that their profits have very little psychotropic effect and THC concentration. We believe this is an industry all within itself.”
A comprehensive public consultation process has been initiated, involving experts and citizens from various sectors, to shape and refine these proposals. Closed sessions have started, with open public consultation meetings planned in the coming weeks.
Pinder also noted that the Ministry of Agriculture is making provisions to provide access to agricultural land they have oversight of for cannabis cultivation.
“They set aside 25 acres in Nassau in the new agribusiness park that will be accessible for micro-cultivation. Needless to say, on the family islands, there is much more opportunity for agricultural land, especially on Andros and Eleuthera.”