By EARYEL BOWLEG
THE Bahamas Christian Council released its official stance on legal marijuana yesterday, throwing support behind regulated medical use but saying recreational use should not be encouraged or condoned.
The BCC added that it does not favour incarceration and criminal records for possession of small amounts of marijuana, but supports the idea of issuing “non-criminal” civil citations to deter expanded use of the drug.
The BCC concluded the drug is unlikely to bring economic prosperity to the country, citing the damage done during the 1980s when cocaine use and trafficking were prevalent.
“We do not believe marijuana use should be condoned or encouraged as it is a mind altering potentially debilitating drug to some at varying degrees, capable of several negative side effects such as marijuana induced psychosis, cognitive impairment, negative impact on the brain of users under the age of 21, and reduced productivity,” a BCC statement read.
“We have no objection to medicinal use as long as it (is) properly regulated and scientifically proven to be the best remedy for the condition prescribed.”
The BCC disagreed with calls from the Rastafarian community for the government to sanction marijuana use for religious purposes.
“We cannot agree to sanctioning marijuana for religious purposes due to the psychoactive impact, however Rastafarians would be sufficiently covered under the small use category and would not face criminal prosecution.”
A BCC report on the issue was compiled by a committee spearheaded by Pastor Dave Burrows. Other members included Pastor Lyall Bethel, Pastor Mario Moxey, Elder Sarone Kennedy and Pastor Kevin Harris.
The council stated that “extensive research” was done, referencing experiences of Colorado and California and “to a lesser extent references” to Canada and Jamaica. The BCC’s report largely had data from non-academic sources, such as news articles and government sites, and had a few studies from scholarly journals.
The BCC’s research revealed a significant increase in black market growers in a legal environment, “to the point of driving legal growers out of business” and usage among children and youth even though the legal age for use is 21.
The BCC highlighted the need to clearly differentiate between CBD (non-intoxicating or non-psychoactive) and THC (psychoactive, psychotropic, intoxicating) in the marijuana discussion. Despite some benefits in the medical use of the drug for certain conditions like chronic pain, the report found a negative impact on mental health.
It was concluded in the report that cannabis was “an intoxicant” that was proven to be “dangerous” for adolescents and adults.
“Building revenue through drug use expansion did not help us during the cocaine years as the social costs far outweighed the economic benefit,” the report notes. “Expanded marijuana is unlikely bring us prosperity and advancement but very likely to increase our social costs in the end.”
The report continues: “We believe that a reduction of penalties to the level of citation for small use can have a positive impact on young users but broad legalisation outside of medicinal use is absolutely not in our best interests due to the reasons previously outlined. A creative look at minimising penalties for small amounts is therefore warranted.”
As for expunging records of those charged for small quantities of cannabis, the council deferred the matter to the national committee spearheaded by former Commissioner Paul Farquharson and the council is awaiting the final recommendations of that committee before making any comments.
The council says an urgent education campaign is needed on the impact of marijuana on young people, specifically the “danger” of marijuana edibles which the group says has contributed to the increase of emergency room visits in every jurisdiction where marijuana has been decriminalized.