By Ava Turnquest
Tribune Chief Reporter
FORMER Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez yesterday called the government’s position on medical marijuana “ludicrous” and “illogical” given the medicinal use of derivatives from other scheduled drugs like cocaine and opium.
Mr Gomez questioned why the government was waiting on a report from the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana (BNCM) concerning medicinal use given the widespread research and adoption of specific therapies around the world.
According to the World Health Organisation, there were 933 new cases of cancer in The Bahamas in 2018, with 482 people dying from the disease last year.
“That would be even more of a reason to have deployed at the earliest possible time medications that are beneficial, inclusive of marijuana-based medicines,” Mr Gomez said.
His comments come as the Medical Association of the Bahamas gets to work drafting a position paper on medical marijuana.
MAB President Dr Marcus Cooper acknowledged officials were “dragging our feet” when it came to drafting legislation but sought to temper public anxiety that the country was missing out on major medical breakthroughs.
Mr Gomez said: “It’s ludicrous to me that you can have marijuana-based eye drops that is beneficial to the optic nerve but because it’s marijuana it’s outlawed? That doesn’t make sense.
“It’s illogical if everyone around us is recognising, ‘hey this has medicinal purposes’ and they’re using it for those persons, what is it for us to discuss?”
Mr Gomez continued: “Now you may have discussion on recreational uses because that’s no longer a health issue, that’s about choices. But for the sick and those who are attempting to get better, they should be given every possible means of recovering, and be able to access it locally. This is just basic.
“If cocaine and cocaine-based medicines are perfectly legal to administer by a physician, what could be the argument for a doctor not legally being in a position to administer marijuana-based medications?”
Marijuana, termed Indian hemp in the Dangerous Drugs Act, is classified in part II of the act alongside coca leaves, crude cocaine, and raw opium.
Legal pathways already exist for marijuana’s medicinal and scientific use in the country as the Dangerous Drugs Act provides an opportunity to request imports for a specific purpose.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan told The Tribune last year the ministry’s records do not indicate that an application to the Dangerous Drugs Act for “Indian hemp” has ever been made.
She said a number of factors could contribute to the lack of applications, and highlighted a lack of awareness and stigma.
Yesterday, Dr Cooper said the MAB’s position paper will specifically address benefits, risks, alternatives to current treatment, and guidelines, if any, related to medical marijuana.
“We know there are a few indications now that cannabis and cannabinoid products have been successfully used in. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence but the science and literature only support a few indications,” Dr Cooper said.
“So we’re going to be looking at those areas where the evidence supports its use and comparing to current therapy to see if there really is a benefit.
“The ball is rolling we have started already.”
Dr Cooper continued: “People think we’re behind because we’re dragging our feet and we are as far as drafting legislation to address that, but there are no medical breakthroughs that are happening. It’s only now that people are decriminalising and legalising it that they can do research, and that takes time.
“So yes people are coming out and saying ‘this helped me’ but we don’t prescribe medication just based on that. We want to make sure we do it properly because it’s not without risk.”
The Minnis administration created BNCM to investigate and report on Bahamians’ views on cannabis. The group was expected to submit its first draft on Bahamian attitudes on the controversial plant— the first step in a larger debate on the prohibition of medical and recreational use — this month. However, the commission has been granted a three-month extension.
The Regional Commission on Marijuana, which presented a report to CARICOM on the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana in the region last year, recommended that in a regulated framework, marijuana should be treated like tobacco and alcohol.
Despite the assessment being done, Mr Gomez feels the government should have moved more swiftly on the issue.
“One would have thought that by now the government would have moved to pass whatever necessary legislation is need to legalise medical marijuana,” he said. “They don’t need to wait for a commission for that. In the same way that Novocaine and these other drugs are administered, you can’t just go and get it you need a prescription, and it’s supervised by a doctor. I don’t see that as being problematic.
“Now we may need to go further so that pharmacies are enabled to buy those particular medications and in the initial stages we may need to import so you would need some legislation dealing with bringing the drug from the Jamaican institution that does it until we set up our own.
“And then from that point onwards our local institution would be the entity that sells the drug ultimately to the patients. It is not about recreation, this is about medicine.”
Cannabis and cannabinoid products have shown success in treating chemo therapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and seizures, according to Dr Cooper, who said those treatments were well-packaged and easy to identify.
The MAB president noted the government will be challenged in efforts to decriminalise or regulate the plant for other medicinal purposes, pointing out complex formulations will be difficult for law enforcement to differentiate from contraband.
“Nobody has ever died from smoking marijuana,” Dr Cooper said, “that’s true, but there are medical and psychological risks associated with THC in particular.”
The MAB’s position paper is several months away, Dr Cooper said, but the association hopes it will coincide with the BNCM’s position paper on legalisation.