By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of the Rastafarian community say they want the government to stop “dragging their feet” on marijuana law reform, noting the drug, if legalised, could help aid the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
Head of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC) Bahamas branch, Priest Rithmond McKinney said while he understands the health crisis might have put a wrench in the government’s plans towards reforming marijuana legislation, he feels the government should stop dragging its feet on the matter, especially given the potential economic benefits of the drug.
“We are watching, we are waiting, and we see the slow process,” he told The Tribune yesterday.
“As you know, I am also a part of the (marijuana) commission and we all know that the during the pandemic and even before the pandemic, the hurricane also put a halt in the commission’s process along with the government.
“We feel as though the AG (Attorney General), the AG’s Office is really dragging their feet. I know the Prime Minister is busy and the Prime Minister has taken it upon his office but also, the AG’s Office has the responsibility to set the laws.”
His comments come after Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana co-chairs Bishop Simeon Hall and Quinn McCartney told The Tribune on Sunday that group members intend to reconvene their work very soon.
“Since we’ve been on pause for the past three and a half months or so, we need to reconvene,” Mr McCartney said. “So, I think the intent is to try direction from the prime minister in terms of which way he would like to see us go. Then we will get together and have a better idea of the way forward.”
In 2108, the commission was given its mandate by Cabinet to comprehensively examine issues surrounding the use of marijuana.
After several delays last year, the group finally presented its preliminary report to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis in January, who later tabled it in the House of Assembly a month later. However, it is not clear what concrete steps have been taken in recent months to advance marijuana legalisation.
The religious leader also said because no further steps have been taken to progress the country towards marijuana reform, too many young people are being hauled before the courts and burdened with criminal records.
“I don’t think it’s fair and when we look to see what’s happening throughout our country and the world, our neighbour to the north to see how many states have been allowed to have the marijuana use for the persons and their states so we have to do the same,” he continued.
“We can’t be oppressing especially in this kind of time when things is rough and things are hard and for persons to be dragged before the courts and fined.”
Speaking on the economic benefits that legalising marijuana could bring to the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Priest McKinney added: “I feel as though the government must speed up the process and leave it in the commission because its revenue could bring more development to our country and slow down the persons who have no employment.
“This could make the employment (rate) much better and it’s a big industry and it really could help someone economically.
“I feel as though the whole Caribbean is looking into this matter and seeing how best they could benefit and help rise the economy so we shouldn’t drag our feet and be behind. We should find the best ways and means to find a way how to use it for the benefit of the Bahamian people economically and medically.”
In the meantime, Priest McKinney said feels that police officers should use their discretion when it comes to arresting young people found with small amounts of the drug.
“We see a relentless campaign on our young people concerning being locked up for marijuana being searched and being dragged in front of the court,” he said.
“The prime minister stated that he (wants to) expunge their records for small amounts so we’re trying to figure out and understand why this still taking place and why the commissioner of police and the minister of national security wouldn’t tell the police to use some kind of discretion when to comes to small amount of the cannabis amongst our young people.”