By MALCOLM STRACHAN
WHILE the US and Canada are raking in billions in profits from the marijuana industry, the Bahamian government continues to drag its feet on the issue. Since the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana held a town meeting nearly a year and a half ago, there has been little to no movement on the matter.
Outside of forming the Bahamas National Marijuana Commission (BNMC), the government has not shown the fortitude to lead on this issue. Learned physicians such as Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands and Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis - who both know well the wide array of medicinal benefits of the plant - refuse to revisit our archaic policies.
We are literally watching the world pass us by as we remain paralysed, perhaps to avoid ruffling the feathers of the US where marijuana is yet to be federally legalised. However, lawmakers suspect that federal legalisation of marijuana is on its way.
Currently, 33 of the 52 American states (including Hawaii and Puerto Rico) have legalised medical marijuana and are reaping the benefits. However, last month, a piece of legislation called the STATES act – Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States – is a bill, if passed, that would amend the Controlled Substances Act in efforts to limit federal action against entities operating legally in states that have legalised medical or recreational marijuana policies. Essentially, as one congressman who has been a staunch advocate of marijuana reform put it, rather than enforcing what any particular state should or shouldn’t do, the act just provides the freedom to do what they choose as far as legalising it or not (per Rep Earl Blumenauer).
In essence, it removes the federally mandated ban on cannabis.
There is much support for the bill to pass in Congress that President Donald Trump, pictured above, has even given an endorsement. This move was preceded by President Trump’s signing of the Agriculture Improvement Act, which legalised hemp, at the end of 2018. Many view this as a precursor to federally legalising marijuana in the United States.
Assuredly, the US is not blind to Canada’s success since legalising marijuana nearly a year ago and must be chomping at the bit to further capitalise on its own economic boom. With the United States’ population size alone, entry into the industry would rocket it to the leading position.
Particularly as Canada’s problem has been having enough marijuana to supply its customers, a unique opportunity has been afforded to Caribbean countries unafraid to throw their hats in the ring.
Jamaica’s legalisation of marijuana in 2015 positioned it as a preferred grower for Canada. Not far behind, other Caribbean countries that have either decriminalised or legalised medical and/or recreational marijuana are St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and the US Virgin Islands.
These countries will not only, in some cases, benefit from the reduction in incarcerating people for small amounts of marijuana, but may also seek opportunities with Canadian and potentially US companies looking to expand their supply chain. Additionally, marijuana tourism, both recreational and medical forms, is something these jurisdictions are very excited about.
As marijuana usage is a lifestyle for many, undoubtedly tourism experiences are going to become predicated on going places where you can use marijuana as legalisation becomes the norm around the world. Clinging to views initially built off lies to besmirch marijuana and hemp has left many in the country ignorant about the plant.
When we hear people continue to associate the violence in the country on marijuana use, it only shows how out of touch and immature many of those opining on the subject really are.
The facts are not hard to come by. Unfortunately, as a result of dogma, fear and just plain stupidity, we refuse to embrace this is no longer the future. This is the present. And if we continue to lollygag and worry about the self-proclaimed “religious nation” title - as if it’s a reason to be a nation devoid of progress - we will certainly watch everyone else pass us by.
With substances like alcohol and tobacco flying off the shelves without a peep, we look nothing more than like a country filled with hypocrites.
Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands recently stated the Bahamas National Marijuana Commission was given a three-month extension to finalise its position on the matter. However, after 17 months, we have yet to see the “deliberate haste” with which Sands said the government should be acting on marijuana reform.
There is a time when we must analyse where the world is moving and think for ourselves. Similar to the STATES act, legalising and decriminalising marijuana likely won’t cause eveyrone to either smoke, grow or sell marijuana. Instead, it would allow people that are interested to have the liberty to do so.
Is that not democracy?
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Chester Cooper, who made his position in support of the legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana in Parliament a few weeks ago, sparked intense debate. Assuredly, as election time nears, marijuana, if it is not legalised before then, will once again become a hot button issue on the campaign trail.
The government is obviously timid on the matter and approaching it with caution. However, this will be a sore point as we will likely be able to note the successes of our Caribbean neighbours who, as Cooper would have suggested we should, would have taken an advantage of a “risky position” because the world has moved in this direction.
Hopefully, in earnest, an economic impact and a societal impact study can be done to bust some of the outrageous marijuana myths we have bandying about. Too much time has already been wasted.