By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
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.