Marvin Dames, Minister of National Security.
By Leandra Rolle
POLICE officers will not stop arresting marijuana users despite the recommendations made by the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana concerning the drug, according to National Security Minister Marvin Dames.
“The law is the law and until the law has (been) amended or changed, we know that there is a process for that to happen, then I encourage everyone to abide by the law,” he told The Tribune.
“…We will certainly have a healthy discussion on the recommendations (made) and at the end of the day, whatever decisions are made will be made in the best interests of the Bahamian people and will be made in the best interest of this nation.
“That has been our objective from day one and we will not be coerced or forced into any decisions.”
The commission’s preliminary report, which was officially tabled in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, recommends releasing from prison those convicted for having small amounts of the drug and decriminalising up to one ounce of cannabis for persons 21 and over.
It also recommends legalising the substance as a sacrament for the Rastafarian community.
Since the report’s release, many members of the Rastafarian community have praised the commission’s recommendations, noting the move as a step in the right direction.
“You know over the years, for the last 20 something years, we was at the table agitating concerning our sacramental rights and it was being denied over and over and repeatedly,” said Priest Rithmond McKinney, head of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) Bahamas branch. “…The church giving persons underage alcohol as their sacrament in the church and that’s deemed to be okay in this country so it’s only natural now for the government to show back human rights and respect human rights and respect the Rasta man sacramental rights.”
However, in light of the report’s recommendations, Priest McKinney said he also feels that police officers should use their discretion when it comes to arresting persons found with small amounts of the drug.
“So, now we’re asking for the police to use some discretion and stop trying to give these young people criminal records,” he told The Tribune last week.
“Right now, persons still getting lock up for two and three joints. We want the police to use some form of discretion at this moment… now that they know this coming on board.
“So, don’t try to lock up everyone you see with a small amount of marijuana because you want to build a case and get promotion because of the more people you lock up with marijuana.”
However, Mr Dames said while he expects some changes to come as a result of the report, members of the public are still advised to follow the law as nothing has been finalised concerning marijuana legislation.
“The report hasn’t been finalised as yet...it is clear that some changes will come, but what those changes are we haven’t got to that point yet,” he said.
“And once, the recommendations are clearly reviewed and discussed and a determination is made in respect to those recommendations, if it requires from that point, the amendments of certain legislation, then we will move in that direction.”
But in the meantime, the minister is urging members of the members of the Rastafarian community and the public at large to be patient.
“This is a process and you know as a government, we promised that we will go through this process and we were very methodical and very structured in our approach and we ensured that we canvassed the length and breadth of this country, getting the opinions of ordinary Bahamians,” he said.
“…Of course, some of us would’ve already expressed some of our opinions and everyone is entitled to our opinions and at the end of the day, we will ensure that there is a consensus and that’s the direction we intend to go as a nation.”
Attorney General Carl Bethel has previously said his office has not started work on marijuana legislation.
“My staff are bogged down with Ministry of Finance on the budget bills,” Mr Bethel told The Tribune last week.