AG: draftspersons working on marijuana legislation
Rehabilitation Committee has begun process of expunging records
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana Co-Chair Quinn McCartney said the commission will perform an extensive review on the expungement of records for people convicted for possession of small quantities of marijuana as part of its final report.
“So, we will be looking at that in much more detail, those recommendations where there was clear support, certainly from the commissioners,” McCartney told Eyewitness News.
“One of the recommendations spoke about the expungement of criminal records and so we will be looking at that topic again in much more detail.”
Asked about the continued work of the commission, which has been reconstituted until the end of June 2021, McCartney said: “The commissioners are relooking at these 24 recommendations to provide more substance to what we have recommended in our preliminary report, supported by additional information that we may obtain, [and] certainly, information that we hope to garner from our survey.
“We definitely still want to do the survey even though it may take a different [direction] in terms of how it is administered this time because of COVID-19 and the safety protocols.
“And so, hopefully the survey, walkabout, town hall meetings, interactions with members of the community over the last 18 months would have allowed us to interact and get, you know, views on a number of issues.
“And then we are looking at what is happening around the region, around the world as it relates to this topic.
“So, we will tend to again address every recommendation and put our position more succinctly to the government in terms of what we recommend.”
Asked about the turnaround for the final report, McCartney was careful not to provide an exact timeline. He acknowledged that the process has been ongoing for nearly two years and “we certainly want to bring closure to these matters, as far as we can go as a commission, as quickly as possible”.
In July, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune that a draft bill on marijuana was expected to be presented to Cabinet in “very short order”.
Speaking to Eyewitness News this week, the attorney general said: “The draftspersons are working on it.”
He did not provide a timeline.
The commission of marijuana recommended the substance be decriminalized and persons be allowed to have a maximum of one ounce of the drug in their possession without prosecution.
Following the submission of its report, there was a widely held view The Bahamas would soon join the Caribbean and global trend.
In late January, the prime minister, who has expressed support for the release of all prisoners incarcerated for the possession of small quantities of the substance, said existing laws regarding possession of small amounts had “unfortunately” led to the arrests, prosecution, and conviction of countless Bahamians “who use the plant for religious purposes or personal or medical reasons”.
He said: “I say we must free the young people, and as I stand here tonight, I send a notice to our prison wardens, I send a notice to our prison officers, that they must get ready to free our young people.”
At the time, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis labeled the prime minister’s marijuana campaign as nothing more than “public relations gimmickry”.
Yesterday, Davis said the time has long passed to address the legalization of marijuana and the expungement of records of people convicted of possession for small amounts of the substance.
“That would be something that the PLP will embrace,” he said. “That is something we will urge the government to do as quickly as possible.
“They ought to by now live up to their promise to that segment of our demographic who have been saddled with records for conviction of small amounts of marijuana that is inhibiting and prohibiting their ability to be full participants in our country and in the workplace.”
When contacted yesterday, Chairman of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee Paul Farquharson said the process of expunging records for people convicted for possession of small quantities of marijuana, among other minor offenses, has begun.
“Our work continues and as chairman, I am very pleased with the progress we have made,” he said.
“In fact, we just celebrated our first year in office. We were appointed last September, on the 26th, so we just celebrated our first anniversary. We continue to make progress.”
Farquharson was unable to provide exact figures, but suggested the committee has received a notable number of applications for review.
The committee is scheduled to meet next week.
“Conservatively, you have thousands of persons who have been over the last, let’s say five years — and you look at what the statistics reveal last year, and you look at the year before and the year before — you can certainly see how wide the scope is you know,” Farquharson said.
“But we process them as the applications come in.
“I think it is a matter of continuous education, letting those persons know that they have recourse once they continue to stay out of the life of crime and of course, continue to be productive persons in society.
As it relates to the decriminalization of small quantities of marijuana, Farquharson pointed out it would require changes to the law and ties into the marijuana commission’s recommendations to the government.
“There were a whole lot of young people convicted for small amounts of marijuana, so you want to educate members of the public continuously that they have a recourse and if they’re convicted, paid their fine or served their time, there is a recourse. The State has an obligation to wipe their record clean once they have met the criteria.
In February, Farquharson called on first-time offenders with minor offenses and those under the age of 21 to apply to the Ministry of National Security to have their records expunged.
According to the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Act, 2015, convictions for murder, manslaughter, treason, armed robbery, rape, or possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply cannot be expunged.
However, all other offenses can be expunged upon successful application to the committee.
Just shy of 600 people were arrested for possession of various quantities of marijuana between January 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020.
During the six-month period, police charged 445 men, 50 women and six juvenile males.
Between 2014 and 2018, police arrested more than 6,800 people for marijuana possession.
The majority of the arrests were associated with marijuana possession solely — 4,280 people of 62 percent.