By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PEOPLE prescribed cannabis for medical purposes will have unlimited potential to grow plants to meet their needs if the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana has its way.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis tabled the commission’s report in the House of Assembly yesterday, bringing the country one step closer to marijuana reform. The commission’s recommendation on medical marijuana is one of the few ways in which its final report differs from a previously leaked draft of its report, which recommended limiting people to cultivating just five plants for medical purposes.
“We did not want to put a specific amount because circumstances may be different for each individual who is prescribed medical cannabis,” Quinn McCartney, the commission’s co-chair, said yesterday.
His commission has also recommended that legislation be enacted to protect employees from discrimination or job loss for using cannabis for medical reasons.
The commission’s most headline grabbing recommendation is that possession of up to one ounce of marijuana be decriminalised for people 21 and over. “However, it is recommended that further consideration is needed in establishing the age that a person can be in possession of cannabis without a criminal record,” its report says.
The commission recommends that the amount decriminalised be reviewed every two years following comprehensive analysis and impact studies.
The commission did not take a view on whether cannabis should be legalised for recreational use, a matter that divided members.
The report says: “Commissioners are aware that decriminalisation is in effect a form of legalisation of the recreational use of cannabis, as it is in effect authorising persons to possess up to an ounce of cannabis. It is recognised that this poses a paradox, as decriminalisation on its own does not provide a legitimate and legal means for persons to obtain their supply of cannabis. It is appreciated that decriminalisation may further facilitate the already existing illegal ‘black market’ for persons to obtain cannabis, which has its inherent law enforcement challenges. If, alternatively, provisions are made for regulated facilities to supply less than an ounce to persons 21 years and older in an attempt to eradicate or reduce the ‘black market,’ this is in effect the legalisation of the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.
“Some commissioners were not prepared at this time to recommend the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use. While Canada recently legalised cannabis for recreational purposes, as well as several states in the US, these commissioners are of the view that there is insufficient information to access the full societal impact of moving in this direction.
“Some commissioners therefore recommended that more research be done, and additional data be obtained to make an informed and responsible decision on the legalization of recreational use of cannabis at this time…Alternatively, other commissioners are of the view that cannabis should be legalised for recreational use for persons 21 years and older.”
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Minnis tied his marijuana reform push to a desire to uplift people who come from modest backgrounds like he did.
“In the Bahamas we have a criminal justice system that needs reform in a number of areas,” he said. “We arrest, prosecute, detain, and punish people for possession of small quantities of the plant, which they use for religious, personal or medical reasons. Coming from an Over-the-Hill community, I have seen firsthand how our laws especially harm young people from humble beginnings. Our laws have unnecessarily burdened some of our citizens with criminal records, making travel and finding work more difficult. It is essential that we change our marijuana laws. The unfairness must stop. We must stop stigmatizing many of our young people and citizens.”
Bahamas Christian Council President Delton Fernander said yesterday that in light of the release of the report he will form a committee today and will map out the way forward later this month when the council meets.