By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
BISHOP Simeon Hall yesterday acknowledged that the country was “behind” on consultation for cannabis reform, but noted he was still optimistic.
The cannabis committee he was appointed to chair with former Deputy Commissioner of Police Quinn McCartney in October has not yet convened a meeting. To date, there has been no confirmation whether the body has been fully constituted.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday Saint Vincent and the Grenadines passed a bill to decriminalise the plant for medical use and scientific research.
Health Minister Dr Duane Sands told reporters outside Cabinet last week the government was not in a race on policy matters.
“It’s certainly a priority that this is done properly,” Dr Sands said, “there is no need I believe to rush into this thing headlong.
“We need to get it right and you need to have the right people at the table. So when you talk about stakeholder involvement, we have seen to it that we want a representative group of individuals to opine on this matter.
“Otherwise we’re going to get a skewed outcome and so if it takes it a little longer to get it right, let’s get it right.”
CARICOM’s Regional Marijuana Commission (RMC) presented its report on the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana in the region earlier this year.
The RMC was asked by CARICOM in 2014 to fully ventilate the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean. It also tasked member states to launch state-level consultations on the subject.
The final report was released in July, and called for an end to the prohibition of marijuana, and a regulatory framework that saw the plant treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol.
The Bahamas stands to reap the greatest benefit from the full legalisation of marijuana production, sale and use with state control, according to CARICOM’s regional report, which estimated net benefits for the Bahamas was about $5.5m.
However, those estimates were said to have been heavily influenced by data availability.
In July, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the establishment of a local marijuana committee, which he said would be given a three to four-month timeline to complete its mandate and furnish a report on the possible legalisation of medical marijuana.
Dr Sands told media in November the committee would be given “as long as it takes” to complete its mandate.
In an interview with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States earlier this week, SVG Agriculture Minister Saboto Ceaser said the bill’s passage has poised the nation to become a global industry leader not only for high-quality production but research.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley last week told reporters the government would establish a framework for medical cannabis this month; however decriminalisation for recreational use would need a referendum. Her stance echoed positions offered by many governments in the region, who like the Bahamas, have heralded the need for careful research.
Meanwhile, RMC Chairperson Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine reiterated the call for change in the region’s cannabis laws during a national consultation on cannabis in Dominica last month.
Last week, Dr Sands added: “There is no race, marijuana has been around for thousands of years. I imagine it will be around for thousands of more years, and if the belief is that somehow a week or two weeks, or two months, is going to mean that all of a sudden, we’ve been left behind - and I’ve heard that argument proposed. I am not sure that it makes for good policy to rush.”