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‘Cannabis’ U-Turn Hits Firm Hard

Julian Smith, owner of NewLife Natual Vegetation Cell Food. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

Julian Smith, owner of NewLife Natual Vegetation Cell Food. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

THE government’s crackdown on the importation of cannabis products, most notably hemp and CBD, is costing one health food retailer thousands of dollars.

It has also elicited concerns from a Bahamian wholesaler in Florida, who called the government’s stance irresponsible given the country’s high rate of chronic illness.

Julian Smith, of NewLife Natural Vegetation Cell Food Ltd, told The Tribune he invested up to $100,000 to secure exclusive rights to the local sale of the Medterra brand of CBD oil and related products.

The CBD products were flying off the shelves, according to Mr Smith, who said he was on his third shipment when Health Minister Dr Duane Sands announced the Department of Customs and police had been put on alert to ban both CBD and hemp products.

Moreover, Mr Smith said the sale of health food supplements like hemp milk and hemp seed protein powders, and topical products derived from hemp like soaps and shampoos, account for some 20 percent of his revenue. 

He noted hemp products have been widely sold in the country for at least a decade, and has called on the government to soften its approach.

“Prior to bringing it into the country I spoke with the [Department of] Customs authority and I spoke with the Ministry of Finance,” Mr Smith said this week, “nobody had no issue with it. If I had heard there was any challenges with it I just wouldn’t have bothered with it, to move to the point of trying to secure the licence for it. Now that I know, I would make a recommendation to the government to soften their approach towards it.

“I want to fully comply but I want them to use their discretion on how they go about trying to assist us, especially small business. This business employs 25 Bahamians and every one of them are dependent on their job. When stuff like this happens, it cuts deep down to our bottom line, deep down.”

Health Minister Dr Duane Sands announced in Parliament earlier this month that his ministry has met with Department of Customs officials and police over the influx of CBD and THC products hitting shelves locally. 

Dr Sands warned consumers and businesses alike that the Dangerous Drugs Act restricts “every compound, manufacture, salt derivative, mixture or preparation of such plant or resin” unless given a special permit for medical or scientific purpose.

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. The commission was due to submit its report last month but got a three month extension.

However, Mr Smith suggested the government could provide some leniency to established health food suppliers, and further underscored the high quality of the CBD products he imported. He said he has dozens of testimonials from customers who saw therapeutic results for a number of ailments within two weeks of use, and pointed to a CBD product for pets that resolved worming issues in a matter of days. 

“It’s certified and validated by the US government and the state of California,” he said. “There is no mind altering drug or anything involved. In the US, they say the CDB it’s legal but with the THC you need to go to pharmacy to get a prescription. It’s sold over the counter as a CBD oil, so my thing is I need to see exactly what is the greatest challenge with this on the medicinal end.” 

Mr Smith continued: “The minister is aware of the epidemic with the sickness in the country. Allow persons at least to have access to the healing aspect of it. We have an epidemic with all these diseases in the country, anything that assists with that you should be aiding that to try and see how you can curtail some of the sickness in the country.”

Dr Sands’ comments in Parliament signalled a shift in tone from earlier this year, when he was asked by The Tribune about the boom in CBD products hitting shelves locally.

It’s led one Florida wholesaler to question whether there is any correlation to the country’s major dependency on the pharmaceutical industry.

Tony Grant Jr, a Bahamian who sells wholesale CBD products to retailers in Florida, said: “Many Bahamians have taken steps to explore more natural and homeopathic remedies in order to relieve their dependency on pharmaceuticals. Sadly, the Bahamas is the regional leader in heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  Given the aforementioned, it is no shocker that we are also amongst the top in pharmaceutical dependency in the Caribbean as well.”

In a letter to the editor, Mr Grant continued: “The questions to ask are right in front of us. The industry for hemp-derived CBD products will exceed over $22 billion by 2022 according to the Brightfield Group.  Assuming a sharp spike in sales in The Bahamas, is it now being strongly enforced to protect the interests of a few? Twenty-two billion dollars in sales will certainly result in a loss of profits for ‘Big Pharma’ so I ask once again has the good doctor found himself in a difficult position?

“Why not issue temporary contingency permits to current active local distributors and then crackdown on those selling without permit until the government has an official position?

“Alternatively,” Mr Grant said, “why not sever the issue of CBD from THC and make a decision on that aspect only? If this is done, I believe we will find a healthy mixture of sole-proprietors along with a handful of pharmacies would be issued these permits. 

“We need answers when it comes to CBD and not simply, ‘It’s illegal.’”

Mr Grant Jr added he expected the Ministry of Environment to encourage the use of natural, biodegradable and recyclable hemp materials to accompany the 2020 ban on single-use plastics and Styrofoam.  

Comments

joeblow 5 months ago

The old adage "look before you leap" seems appropriate here. You must know the laws WITHIN the territory you are doing business BEFORE you do business. Should have known that people in Customs and Ministry of Finance would be clueless about such things!

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Sickened 5 months ago

We all know the laws but we also know that these laws are VERY rarely enforced. Unfortunately, some laws have to be ignored as they are so irrelevant in this day and age and simply soooo stupid, that to obey these laws should have you locked up for being a mindless moron. One example is the current law that makes it a crime for residents to have non-Bahamian dollars in their possession UNLESS they are on the way to a bank to deposit them. I'm sure there are many, many more as well.

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joeblow 5 months ago

... in spite of that, whenever one is investing a sizable amount of money all efforts must be taken to minimize risk. When dealing with drugs or their derivatives, get solid legal advice, until such time as the laws change or cannot be applied indiscriminately!

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truetruebahamian 5 months ago

I realise that I probably break at least ten laws in any country I currently happen to be in or pass through before I even wake up and of which I am absolutely ignorant. Others younger than me probably break more before they are even ten years old! However when I find that I have - and it is a stupid law - I smile and look forward to having it in my repertoire of things that make my life interesting and worthwhile!

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realitycheck242 5 months ago

Natural health products such as CBD oil are considered micracle products and are proving they are worth their price because of the healing and pain relief they are providing. While the world moves forward and enact legislation to support the use on these products, the Bahamas ambiguous position at this stage of the game is not helpful and maybe even deadly to the people who these products can help. This is a wave that is sweeping the world so government needs to finalize its official position and local pharmaceutical companies need to just accept this new reality.

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TheMadHatter 5 months ago

Well hopefully no Cabinet member or his family will have cancer or other serious illness. On the other hand i suppose the police would not charge them with possession anyway. If you are high in government (pun intended) or a Haitian then you dont have to worry about medicines or hospital bed availability. If you are a Bahamian, you just suffer and die. It is your sealed fate.

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bahamianson 5 months ago

people sail into our waters all the time with apparent legal guns and licences from another jurisdiction. when they get here, it is another matter because he or she may legally be able to carry and conceal in their territory but not legally in ours. it is an offence here, so one must know the law where they are.....simple.

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B_I_D___ 5 months ago

It blows me away that we have a full blown shop front, pedaling what is an illegal item in the Bahamas, and is now COMPLAINING about it now that they cannot supply. Don't take into account anything in your business model that is illegal. How people try to justify this 'because it's happening all around the world'...IT'S THE LAW!!

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banker 5 months ago

There is a chance that if marijuana, CBD products were legalised in the Bahamas, if we got into it in a big way, it might diversify the economy, provide jobs and provide a way of Bahamians to participate in the economy and grow crops for export. I know folks living below Cowpen Road who have been growing the stuff for ages and are experts at it. If they could do it legally, we all be rich! Just read in the news (sports actually) that pro golfer Bubba Watson has been legally using CBD for years to keep up his athletic health. Why don't the government bozos realise that cannabis is a way to creating a better life for Bahamians?

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OldFort2012 5 months ago

Oh, I think they realize all too well. God forbid Bahamians should find an easy way to make some money!!!!!

They would become independent of their political masters and not subservient to them!! Who needs that??? Not the politicians for sure!!!

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TheMadHatter 5 months ago

Correct and every 5 years Bahamians get swing with just a little chicken and beer. That's what they think the lives of our children are worth, a little chicken and beer.

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realitycheck242 5 months ago

‘Big Pharma’ in this country dont want to see their profits decreased in any way especially by a product that the FDA has not approved. The Doc's in goverment will throw their legislative support behind Big Pharma. Like the saying goes "hand go hand come".

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sealice 5 months ago

buddy there's a hellalot better ideas then investing in something illegal, or just something in the bahamas.... and expecting any government of the bahamas to be able to change.... come on now... wait you got one of those "d" averages too right??

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thephoenix562 5 months ago

We could go back to shipwrecking and piracy.that would diversify the economy too.What is the big rush to legalise cannabis ?

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John 5 months ago

When you have pea brain politicians and decision makers. Rather than be independent and make decisions, they wait to be dictated to or will always be the last man off the ship. In this modern age of information and technology you cannot be effective with that type of governance.

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proudloudandfnm 5 months ago

Meanwhile pervasive, non-indigenous plants that are on the MOA restricted list are imported daily....

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truetruebahamian 5 months ago

It's like if Bunker C fuel was outlawed - but regularly infecting the country, but 3 in 1 oil is outlawed! Give me a break!

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bcitizen 5 months ago

Can fix pot holes, keep the power on, books and toilet paper in schools but, we gonna punish people for a product that has no THC the compound in hemp that makes you high. Glad our priorities are in order. Meanwhile them number houses paying their taxes like good business people. What a joke.

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The_Oracle 5 months ago

I have a Te Shirt made from Hemp fibers, I just burned it so I don't get busted! The stupidity in this administration knows no bounds, with respect of CBD preparations for ingestion or topical use. (and damn near any other subject also) The underlying objection may well be diminished residual revenue that Dr's receive from Big Pharma on prescriptions both new and renewed. They could also be stalling while they apply for the license to import and distribute. Neither would surprise me.

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bcitizen 5 months ago

I think you hit the nail on the head regarding import licenses.

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ThisIsOurs 5 months ago

Really strange that they spoke with customs and finance but not the ministry of health.

For such a controversial health product, It seems almost intuitive that your first concern would be can we get official consensus that this will not harm people. It's clear Mr Smith is a savvy businessman but this was a strange move...the only thing I can think is there was a deliberate strategy to go around the ministry of health because they knew the answer would be no.

There are many drugs approved by the FDA that have to be pulled off the market because they prove harmful to the general population and those drugs have gone through years of research trials. Professionally and ethically Dr Sands just can't say well a bunch of people say this help them so let's make it legal

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