By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A HANDFUL of young Bahamians are hoping to turn their social media traction into a political movement for the decriminalisation of marijuana.
Marijuana Bahamas spokesperson Renaldo Cartwright told The Tribune his group hopes to overcome the local stigma surrounding the illegal drug to allow for informed debate over potential economic, social and medical benefits.
Mr Cartwright, 23, stressed the group’s aim was not to promote drug use but lobby for a modern approach to shifting global attitudes.
The group is looking to launch a public relations campaign to raise awareness, and plans to host a march early next year.
“When I started researching the reasons why it was illegal,” he said, “and the health and social benefits of the drug as compared to alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, I was like let me see how Bahamians feel about the issue.
“I put up the group in December 2016, there were other groups out there but there was not much activity. I said let me try my hand at it.”
Mr Cartwright said response to the page was slow at first, but has started to pick up with an average of 100 likes per week. He attributed the uptick in activity to his recent appearance on a radio talk show with Senator Ranard Henfield. Mr Cartwright said he has met with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on the issue in April, when he was still in opposition, and is trying to set up a meeting with the Christian Council.
“The response has been very good,” he said, “Bahamian people now they scared of the issue itself, the taboo of it all. We have people that say we support it, but don’t put my name.
“We’ve been getting support for a lot of people in the Out Islands, where it’s so taboo you can’t talk about it. We also get a lot of tourists who are trying to find out what the laws are about it. We have five people on board now. It’s so taboo people have to watch out for their job.”
Mr Cartwright continued: “But I feel like the climate is just right now to push a marijuana movement. How this government changed, Bahamians feel like we could make a change, this is a group of young people saying if we push for something we could make it happen.
“This isn’t just about marijuana itself, it’s about the whole concept if you want something done don’t just talk about it. Get a group together, organise, and get it done. Don’t just complain about it, we always have people complaining about all these young boys getting lock up. It’s a whole social issue, not just the marijuana.”
The medicinal marijuana industry is estimated to be worth billions of dollars, and the drug is regulated for medicinal use in more than 20 US states.
In July, Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands made it clear that the Minnis administration was not currently considering the decriminalisation of marijuana or legalisation of the drug for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Dr Sands explained that while the government will be “objective and open minded” on the issue, it does not think that “the Bahamas should lead the world in this particular exercise.”
In 2015, Jamaica amended its Dangerous Drugs Act to create the framework for the decriminalisation of offence under the law, and to make it a ticketable offence to possess two ounces or less of marijuana. It also created the framework for the development of legal medical marijuana, hemp and nutraceutical industries.
In April, St Kitts and Nevis announced the establishment of a National Commission on Marijuana/Cannabis saliva. It follows an announcement by SKN Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris, who stated that his government is ready for open dialogue with the relevant stakeholders on the issue of the decriminalisation of marijuana.
In May, CARICOM’s Regional Marijuana Commission hosted national consultation in Antigua and Barbuda.
Mr Cartwright said: “We’re building awareness right now. We’re trying to fight for decriminalisation with provision for medical marijuana. My grammy right now suffering from opioid addiction where she been on pills for so long. The doctor put her on these pills, and now she has to take them just to sleep and be calm. We have a lot of chronic diseases that could be better treated.”
The group will host its first meet and greet at Golden House in Caves Village on Saturday, August 26.
Up to press time, the Facebook page had more than 4,300 likes.
“Come out just to understand where we’re coming from,” he said, “we’re not a drug group, we’re not trying to get everyone to smoke marijuana. We’re trying to figure out how to get the drug dealers off the street, stop these young boys from getting lock up for petty stuff.”