By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas must zone "separate regions" for industrial hemp and medical marijuana to avoid "cross-pollination" and ensure both become sustainable industries.
The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana's preliminary report, tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday, admitted that there needed to be "greater focus" on determining the precise economic impacts that a legalised industry would have for this nation.
While the report focused on the economic impacts seen in Canada and Colorado, it only set out the likely benefits for The Bahamas in very general terms with a complete absence of statistics.
Acknowledging that issues such as a full economic impact assessment have yet to be addressed, it conceded: "The report does not address this, but greater focus is needed to gauge the various impacts a cannabis industry will have on the Bahamian economy.
"There is a need to consider the possibilities for establishing markets for both plant types involved - those for recreational and medical use, and those designed for the hemp industry. The potential exists for a sustainable industry for each one."
Yet it later added: "Studies have shown the plants grown for medical, religious and recreational purposes cannot co-exist with plants grown for the hemp industry. The more dominant hemp strain will cross-pollinate with other strains of cannabis and replace them, thereby diminishing the usefulness for other purposes.
"If The Bahamas wishes to engage in the growth of both products, consideration will have to be given to zoning separate regions to avoid this issue."
This means that while both plant types can co-exist in The Bahamas if this nation was to target all segments of the industry, it must be managed carefully to prevent one strain from contaminating the other.
Cannabis for the hemp industry can be used in products such as clothing, ropes and other building materials. Terry Miller, a long-time advocate for marijuana's legalisation and head of the Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute (BACARI), previously told Tribune Business that this nation should "select our niche market" from 50,000 industrial hemp applications.
He argued: "To put a bit more flesh on the aspect of licenses, what they have missed out.... is the industrialisation of hemp, which is huge. When I first came across the Canadian manual on industrial hemp, which was produced in 2005, the Canadians said that they had a vision.
"You see, if you get into this and you don't have a vision - a clearly-defined national vision on how we want this industry to develop and where we want to be in this industry internationally - again, we are going to have some problems.
"The Canadians said that Canada will be the number one producer of industrial hemp products in the world, but from The Bahamas all I'm hearing about is individual personal use and recreational use and medicinal, but there is an industrial part of this that we need to start really looking seriously at this because we can turn into a producer nation.
"When the Canadians produced that 2005 booklet they said that marijuana had about 2,000 industrial applications. But, as of last year, industrial hemp has now over 50,000 applications so we need to pick and choose our niche market in that."
However, the Commission's report yesterday disagreed with Mr Miller's assessment. It said: "Looking at the global trends, it is not expected that there will be an explosion of products into the industrial hemp market. This is because the prohibition on industrial hemp has been lifted for the majority of the world.
"Hemp clothing is available, but not in large amounts. The same applies for other hardware hemp that can be, and is being, produced. What is seen is an explosion in the health and recreational uses of hemp-derived CBD and products. Products range from every aspect of the consumer experience: Smokable products, as well as edible, topical and pet wellness products."
The report added that higher start-up costs for hemp producers, "coupled with a low market demand", were likely holding this sector back and ensuring it was not "a priority for businesses operating in this space".
"On the other hand, the costs to set up operations designed to cultivate and extract for human consumption are much more cost-effective with a much higher return on investment," the report added.