Op-Ed: Legalizing marijuana in The Bahamas

Op-Ed: Legalizing marijuana in The Bahamas

By Bryant Lowe

The legalization of cannabis has, for a long time, been a controversial topic in The Bahamas, and indeed the world.

Bryant Lowe

I personally believe that the negative points that have often been put forth in an attempt to dissuade the public of the potential of a cannabis industry can be turned into positives if properly planned and executed. Many important discussions related to national development come and go with little to no results ever being achieved – they end up becoming pipe dreams because we seldom set goals with proper planning and education. I have read the preliminary report released by The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana (BNCM)  and feel that it provides great insight on cannabis. The report is based on data collected through surveys and a number of different sources. What I have noticed, however, is a lack of suggestions being provided by younger people, outside of the BNCM, who generally would like to see the legalization process pushed forward and have a say in what such an industry should look like.

As a young person that believes the legalization of cannabis could have a great impact on our economy, my fear is that if we continue to procrastinate and neglect long-lasting issues in our country, such as the lack of progress in our educational, health care and criminal justice systems, the industry’s potential will not be fully realized and it may not ultimately be beneficial or accessible to every Bahamian regardless of their social class.

The youth are often painted in a negative light when the topic of cannabis arises. I believe if we can express our thoughts and perspectives to open minds, we can truly arrive at balanced suggestions and recommendations on the way forward – not only with cannabis but a whole variety of issues. I will provide a plan that I believe can be effective and help to lay a roadmap to the legalization of cannabis.

My hope is that it will be reviewed and debated by interested persons, especially young people with further suggestions that can better the plan and carry the conversation further. I want this to be an opportunity to begin turning this wish into reality with the beginning of comprehensive plans being put forth by the youth of The Bahamas which would accompany the extensive data and recommendations from BNCM in this ongoing cannabis conversation being constantly sparked in the country.

I. Education

The main priority of any plan moving forward should be education. We must educate the general public extensively on the plant, its uses, the potential benefits and drawbacks, and safety measures that will need to be put in place to ensure the wellbeing of consumers.. Education in the form of quick crash-courses would also need to take place for persons who wish to grow and cultivate marijuana both on small and large scales, persons who wish to own a business selling retail marijuana for recreational use, government workers who would have to work with cannabis in any way – this would also include the re-education of police officers on new regulations and legislative amendments pertaining to the drug in the event it is legalized. The early education and training of Bahamians would also lessen the need for foreign workers because of the “skills gap.”

II. Guaranteed Bahamian Ownership

Bahamian majority ownership should be viewed as the ultimate goal – it is crucial as we work towards creating a cannabis industry. Ensuring that it is mandatory for Bahamians to own at least 51 percent shares in a business gives Bahamians the opportunity to partner with foreign companies that can own no more than 49 percent of shares. This creates a safety net that ensures this industry remains majority Bahamian-owned.

I propose that the Government should have a system and facilities in place that would deal with the secondary sector of the industry e.g. collecting raw material from farmers, manufacturing and packaging it for distribution to retail cannabis stores, this would give Bahamians a better opportunity to start a business in the industry as the sole proprietor. There can be some flaws with this system, if it is not set up strategically it can make accountability, mismanagement and corruption a huge problem. This system should be able to allow the government to track packages of the products coming  in and going out via serial numbers and various other measures.

The Bahamian Government can also place security measures, such as special seals being placed on all packages as an authenticity verification for all buyers, which is similarly done in Canada. The seal can be placed specifically so that the buyer would be able to notice if the product has been tampered with prior to initial consumption. This measure reduces the risk of users being laced (drugged by a more potent substance), and lowers the probability of the amount of product being stolen throughout the  distribution process. If the seal is torn, that would be an indication that the packaging had been opened already. The seal can also be placed on any product imported from other countries before being collected by the store representative.

III. Forgiveness, Rehabilitation and Reform

In The Bahamas, offenders can be, if convicted, sent to prison for possessing, selling or trafficking marijuana. Whether a decision is made to legalize marijuana or not, there is still a dire need to fix our rehabilitation system. We do not have proper rehabilitation centres in The Bahamas. What we have is a survival centre. This has and will continue to destroy the minds of our young men and women and in turn create more crime. A young man or woman can go into Her Majesty’s prison for minor offenses and because of the ‘fight to survive’ environment he or she is placed in, one can come out a murderer. Setting up a proper rehabilitation centre would be extremely beneficial in the event that laws are broken, so that offenders are not only punished for their actions but also rehabilitated.

Another important step to ensure the best opportunities for all Bahamians is to expunge the records of those who have previously been convicted for minor possession of cannabis alone. After these expungements, a permit system can be put in place for anyone desirous of obtaining the same. There should be a requirement to undergo a health and safety crash-course and a background check. This would give those who once were imprisoned for cannabis possession to now legitimize themselves and their sale of cannabis  and start fresh in a field that they are familiar with.

IV. Health and Safety

Health and safety is a big concern for many Bahamians when it comes to legalizing cannabis. We have seen many studies carried out that show the health benefits of marijuana – more so in the medical field, though like any other drug or vice the overuse or dependency of the same can have negative effects on the body and mind. With cannabis being used for both medicinal and recreational purposes the chances of people overusing it is higher.

Again, proper education and regulations are very important here. Driving under the heavy influence of any drug or substance should be prohibited by law for safety reasons – marijuana should be no exception. Government handling the packaging of local marijuana strains and handling any portion that would be exported is also good for health and safety. On the packages, the amount of THC in a particular strain should be displayed and consumers can use their discretion as to their preferred strength.

This is a good step in comparison to how the general public is now unaware of the specific strengths of various strains of marijuana which are sold on the streets. Business employees should also be knowledgeable enough to advise the customers on which strain would be ideal. The legalization would eliminate the need for ducking, dodging and pushing for quick transactions in an attempt to evade law enforcements. This would also be a good opportunity to encourage local businesses to use electronic payment methods. Health professionals can be further consulted to make the best decisions as they pertain to mental and physical health.

V. Corruption and Accountability

In any lucrative industry, corruption always poses a threat. Even when people are caught in corruption, if they are high enough in the ‘ladder’ they are very unlikely to ever be held accountable. Corruption and accountability are things we have been struggling with in this country for a long time. It is very important to implement certain measures to combat corruption and hold people accountable for wrong doings no matter their place in the social ladder. Packaging can possibly eliminate many aspects that deal with corruption. With the packaging being done in a government facility, highly skilled inventory workers can be instructed to track all packages by serial numbers.

We should strive to not only debate the pros and cons of legalizing cannabis, but also debate actual plans to best mitigate any risk the industry can pose.The outcome can be spectacular – and a true boost to the economy. Young people must especially let their voices be heard and work hard to highlight our creativity and commitment to innovation in this area. Members of the older generations must open their ears and minds to understand the perspectives younger generations have.

The potential that the younger generations hold can be maximized with better understanding and shared visions coming from older generations, especially older leaders. That same mindset can be transferred to the cannabis industry.