Marijuana commission on hold, PM says focus is COVID-19

Marijuana commission on hold, PM says focus is COVID-19

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The work of the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana (BNCM) has been put on hold amidst the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

BNCM co-chairman Bishop Simeon Hall told Eyewitness News yesterday the group has already been delayed by a month, with the timeline for completion of its report unclear.

“We don’t know when this thing is going to happen,” Hall said.

“We’ve been given another month [of lockdown], and that puts everything on hold.”

The government passed a resolution to extend the state of emergency and emergency regulations until May 30.

During his presentation in Parliament, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis insisted that the country must now develop new ways and embrace new industries to boost the country’s economic circumstance.

Asked whether the government is considering the marijuana industry as a way to garner new revenue, Minnis said he was focused on mitigating the local spreading of COVID-19 and had yet to speak with the commission.

“I have to wait for the report from the committee,” Minnis told Eyewitness News.

“[There is a] whole process. The committee was supposed to have consultation at a level with the community. I haven’t spoken to the committee.

“…Right now we dealing with COVID19. What we want to do is resolve this issue first and foremost.”

The commission’s preliminary report was tabled in Parliament in early February and recommended that marijuana be decriminalized and persons be allowed to have a maximum of one ounce of the substance in their possession without prosecution.

Its final report was expected to be presented following a national survey to codify the views of the Bahamian public on the matter, however, the local spread of the virus has derailed most of the government’s plans.

While the survey was scheduled to be completed by mid-April, the country has been in a state of emergency since March 17.

Hall said the commission is waiting on the statistical data to affirm some projections that it made.

“Obviously the strongest regulatory panel will have to be established,” he continued.

“Even a bipartisan nonpolitical panel will have to be established to ascertain minimizing any social problems we might face.”

He said one of the challenges identified while he served on the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana was regularization of policies.

“We come up with rules but we don’t enforce it and The Bahamas hasn’t done well in that,” Hall added.

“So if we go in that direction, I would say we have to be sure that we have a regulatory panel that will ensure that the social problems are not increased.”

He said it is imperative that any decision made to industrialize the substance does not exploit the Bahamian people.

Among its 24 recommendations, the BNCM has advised the government to allow those prescribed medical cannabis to be able to grow sufficient plants for their use; to allow tourists who are prescribed medical cannabis in their countries to obtain it in The Bahamas; and to allow the importation of regulated cannabis products for ailments.

Cannabis possession would be decriminalized up to one once or less for personal use for people 21 years or older and laws would be amended for the immediate expungement of small possession criminal records.

Additionally, Rastafarians and other religious groups who use the substance as a sacrament would be allowed to possess, cultivate and use it for sacramental purposes.

The commission stopped short of recommending the legalization of recreational marijuana, insisting that the issue needs to be explored further before a consensus can be garnered.