Marijuana commission stresses its role in ongoing debate

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Days after the Rastafarian community held a private meeting with national security minister Marvin Dames and threatened to sue the government because they cannot utilize cannabis for religious purposes; the government-appointed national commission on marijuana asserted yesterday that it is the only government-recognized body to address the national debate on marijuana.

According to Quinn McCartney, marijuana commission chairperson, the body – which is comprised of 23 professionals from varying sectors of society – continues to gather public feedback for government to decide which direction the country will take on the controversial issue.

“The commission has been appointed by Cabinet and they have given us our mandate and our duty is to report back to government what is happening behind the scenes or in other quarters we are not aware of,” he said.

Despite having a Rastafarian representative who sits on the marijuana commission,

McCartney said the commission was unaware that the Rastafarian community had been pushing its own agenda behind the scenes.

“We have a Rastafarian member who is a very active member of our commission,” McCartney said. “No official meetings have been held with any other stakeholders but that will happen during July and August [and these will include] private consultations with the religious community [and] the medical and legal communities.”

In January, the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana held an audience with media to announce its mandate and launch.

Six months later, the body of 23 committee members have hosted a series of town hall meetings in Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma.

McCartney said the next town meeting will be held in New Providence on June 26 and a town hall meeting will be held in Grand Bahama the following day.

It’s a process which some advocates of marijuana legalization have labeled as “prolonged,” but McCartney disagrees.

“Certainly, the commission is aware that members of the public want this issue to be addressed as quickly as possible but the commission wants to make sure that we are very deliberate in our discussions and consultations and we want to make sure that whatever we bring to the Bahamian public is something that will be of relevance to The Bahamas,” he said.

“Yes, it may be perceived as taking too long. But, certainly we want to give this issue sufficient time because it is an important and critical issue.”

McCartney said the committee has been gathering information on possible medicinal uses of the herb, its economic benefits, consideration for its legal use in religious practices, legalization for recreational use and what regulatory framework is needed to govern the marijuana industry if legalized.

While garnering public opinion on the discussion, the committee has planned trips to Jamaica and Canada to learn what influenced their decisions to legalize aspects of the industry.

The committee has until September to report their findings to government.

“We are pushing hard to make sure that we meet the deadline but certainly what will affect us reaching that deadline is our trips to Jamaica and Canada because we would want to include those in our report,” he said.

The town meeting in New Providence will be held at St John’s College Auditorium.

The town meeting in Grand Bahama will be held at Foster B Pestaina Centre.

“We are asking Bahamians who are for and against this, for their views,” Bishop Simeon Hall, marijuana commission chairperson said.

“It is important that people respond and come to these meetings to make their positions known rather than wait until after a decision is made and then say no one contacted me.”

Town meetings are also planned for North and South Andros in the coming months.