By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
EXUMA and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper yesterday called on the government to immediately expunge the records of people convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Mr Cooper said officials needed to re-examine the law concerning the quantity of drugs that met the “intent to supply” threshold, characterising the status quo as a “failed” policy.
He reiterated his full support of the legalisation of medical marijuana, and expanded his position to include the decriminalisation of small amounts of recreational marijuana during his contribution in the House of Assembly.
“For the life of me,” Mr Cooper said, “I don’t understand why we are still arresting and charging and criminalising young men with possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“We’re giving these people criminal records and forcing them into the underworld as they can’t get jobs, can’t travel.”
He continued: “What do we expect them to do but turn to crime when they can’t participate in the legitimate workforce? We have to address this as a Parliament and as a nation.
“I support the legalisation of medical cannabis and decriminalising of small amounts of recreational marijuana.
“That may not be a popular view in this place,” he added, “but that is my position. And no I have never smoked and neither have I inhaled.”
Mr Cooper’s remarks came after Health Minister Dr Duane Sands told Parliament there have been a number of confiscations at the nation’s border after his ministry met with Department of Customs officials and police over the influx of CBD and THC products hitting shelves locally.
Dr Sands said confiscated samples tested by a police forensics team have revealed a lack of consistency in the content of products advertised to contain CBD, with some containing no CBD and others containing significant amounts of THC.
For his part, the health minister urged Bahamians to be patient while the Bahamas Marijuana Commission completes its report as there is no guarantee of the safety and efficacy of products imported illegally.
“We acknowledge the changing environment around us,” Dr Sands said, “however the law is neither gray uncertain nor nebulous. It is impossible to predict the outcome of our sovereign deliberations. And while we encourage vigorous debate and participation in the process to affect desired change or to maintain the status quo, we enjoy a healthy democracy where contentious and controversial issues can be discussed and ventilated. In the meantime the public is urged to remain patient because it is through this process that nation building continues.”
Dr Sands pointed to the nearly 50-year track to decriminalisation and legalisation policies in some US states that began with California’s first failed attempt in 1972.
In the US, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level; however, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, with recreational use legal in 10 states.
“The Bahamas and Bahamians have also developed a keen interest in cannabis,” Dr Sands continued. “Simultaneously there has been an increased adoption of the use of products of the plants for various indications, including construction.
“While we acknowledge interests, our local deliberations have not yet been completed. We do not know what the commission will decide but the Bahamas is a country of laws and the Dangerous Drugs Act remains in effect.
“As such marijuana, cannabis, THC, and yes CBD remain illegal without a licence,” Dr Sands added.
Speaking to the over-the-counter sale of CBD products, Mr Cooper accused Dr Sands of “trying to block the hustle” of a substance in wide distribution around the world.
“There aren’t any psychotropic effects, as evidenced by the great body of work that is out there,” Mr Cooper said.
“The world has moved on.
“It’s regrettably too late for us to lead on this, but it’s not too late to be progressive.
“I digress,” Mr Cooper added, “but we must ensure that our punitive stance on minor offences do not impose the unintended social consequences for ordinarily law-abiding citizens.”