PM supports release of prisoners with small amounts of marijuana convictions

PM supports release of prisoners with small amounts of marijuana convictions
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday suggested that cannabis reform laws are on the horizon, as he expressed support for the release of all prisoners incarcerated for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Minnis, who has previously affirmed his support for the decriminalization of the substance, made the comments during the handover of the preliminary Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana report.

The prime minister maintained marijuana reform is a “matter of social justice”.

“As a country, we should not consider Bahamian marijuana users as criminals,” Minnis said.

“I have publicly declared my position on this matter.

“I support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and making the substance legal for medicinal and scientific use.

“I support expunging the records of Bahamians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“They deserve to move on with their lives free and clear of the stigma of a criminal conviction.

“Once our reform laws are passed and through proper legal mechanisms and procedures, I also support the release from prison of all those who are solely in prison for small marijuana possession.”

He noted that the analysis and information contained within the report will help guide the policy decisions his administration will take.

“This report will be reviewed and considered within the context of our program to expunge records for the use of small amounts of marijuana,” Minnis continued.

“…Our laws regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana have unfortunately led to the arrest, prosecution, conviction and punishment of countless Bahamians who used the plant for religious purposes, personal or medical reasons.

“Our current marijuana prohibition causes unnecessary confrontations between police and citizens.”

According to data contained in the BNCM’s preliminary report, obtained by Eyewitness News last month, law enforcement arrested 6,809 people in The Bahamas for marijuana possession between 2014 and 2018.

Of that number, 4,280 or 62 percent were arrested for possession, while 2,452 people or 36 percent were arrested for possession with intent to supply. Fifty-seven people or less than one percent arrested during the period were for cultivation.

Additionally, crime statistics released by Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson earlier this month show police made 1,556 arrests in connection with marijuana in 2019.

Of those arrests, 917 people were arrested for possession of marijuana; 622 for possession with intent to supply; 11 for possession.

Only six people were arrested for cultivation despite significant fields of marijuana discovered in 2019.

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

The commission also puts forth recommendations for medicinal, recreational and sacramental use of the substance and insisted that that Bahamians should own 51 percent of the industry in a legalized framework.

The prime minister insisted yesterday that after growing up in the Over-the-Hill community, he has seen firsthand how the cannabis prohibition laws especially harm young people from modest backgrounds.

“Many good Bahamians have been burdened with criminal records, making travel to certain countries impossible and finding work more difficult,” Minnis said.

“Reforming our marijuana laws and changing how we treat people with conviction of possession of small amounts is a matter of social justice and fairness.

“It is the decent and moral thing to do.”

Members of the Rastafarian community have filed a law suit against the government seeking damages and the expunction of marijuana related convictions from their criminal records.

Priest Rithmond McKinney, the commission’s Rastafarian representative, said yesterday the prime minister’s comments signal a right direction for the community.

“So far I give thanks on what I hear from the prime minister,” McKinney said.

“Our community, as you’ll know, over the years has been talking about decriminalization and expunging of ones records and what Rasta has been going through over the years, the atrocities.

“So the prime minister’s statement is a win in the right direction. So far so good.”