HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands has dismissed a call from Progressive Liberal Party deputy leader Chester Cooper to act swiftly to decriminalise marijuana.
Speaking to reporters at Cabinet yesterday, Dr Sands said the administration is taking a data driven approach and he questioned why the Opposition party sees the issue as such an emergency. "You know when I lick my finger and hold it up in the wind because the wind is blowing and that's how policy is created, I guess by the Opposition. We have taken a task of looking at the data to determine what is appropriate and fit for The Bahamas," he said.
"I believe that the Marijuana Commission has done an excellent bit of work. They are almost done with their preliminary report. Let them report and then we'll action it. Why is this such an emergency now? Whether it should be done today or tomorrow - I didn't hear the deputy leader of the opposition speaking about this three years ago."
On Monday, Mr Cooper released a statement saying Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis should do more than just talk about marijuana decriminalisation, adding the Minnis administration should be drafting the necessary law changes for debate in Parliament as soon as possible. While he welcomed the prime minister's recently announced stance on the issue, Mr Cooper said Dr Minnis was "late again" as other public figures have previously expressed progressive views on the matter and called for reform.
"In March 2018, in the House of Assembly, I called for the legalisation of medicinal marijuana," Mr Cooper said in a statement. "In May, I publicly called in the House of Assembly for the legalisation of medical marijuana and the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana, as well as the expungement of criminal records for simple possession. Many of my FNM counterparts laughed. At the Progressive Liberal Party's convention in June of this year, I urged us to leap forward as a nation on this issue.
"Our party leader has also expressed his support for this position. While many Bahamians suffered, and continue to so do, under a condemnable policy and statute approach, the government dithers awaiting a delayed report from the Marijuana Commission. The same commission the prime minister says he does not expect to report anything significantly different from the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana. That commission has come to the same conclusion as I have, and now the prime minister. Marijuana should be treated as a controlled substance and not a dangerous drug. The Free National Movement has sat on its hands while the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee, the law governing such being created, passed and gazetted by the Progressive Liberal Party, remained constituted. The prime minister must do more than talk. It is his duty to act on his convictions and lead. The prime minister should have already directed his attorney general to draft the necessary legal reforms.
"And they should be brought to Parliament. I am ready to debate this issue in the House of Assembly at any time. We need to move on from this punitive practice of denying those in need of medical treatment. We must end this persecution of those who are only interested in using marijuana for recreational and religious practices," Mr Cooper added.
Despite his support for relaxed laws surrounded marijuana, Mr Cooper said there should be guidelines, such as ticketing for public use of marijuana and laws to ensure it is not used by those underage or operating a vehicle or heavy equipment.
On Sunday, Dr Minnis said he supports expunging criminal records of people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana.
A week earlier, Dr Minnis became the first sitting prime minister to publicly support some form of marijuana decriminalisation, saying that in addition to decriminalising possession of small amounts of the substance, he wants it legalised for medicinal and/or scientific purposes.
The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana is expected to submit its report on the issue to the government early next year.