By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on Wednesday announced the government's intention to extend the country’s state of emergency until November 30.
A resolution to effect this, he said, is expected to be debated during next week’s sitting of Parliament. Earlier this month, Dr Minnis said the discontinuation of COVID-19 Emergency Powers Orders would depend on an improvement of the current situation. However, this has not happened and the nation continues to see a rise in cases - more than 400 over the last several days.
Ahead of the announcement, Dr Minnis painted a bleak economic picture, saying with tourism mostly ground to a halt, the economy “is in the worst state ever in our modern history, indeed much worse than the Great Recession of 2008.”
With record tourism levels reported before the pandemic, he said people must prepare for the reality that these figures will not return for some time.
“The pandemic is not close to ending,” he said. “We will still be in it well into next year.
“Bahamians should not think of this pandemic as a short-term diversion in our lives, that when over it will quickly lead to the resumption of how we once lived.”
However, Dr Minnis referenced several initiatives conceived in a bid to help the Bahamas recover from its COVID-19 induced economic slump and assured Bahamians that a “rebound” is coming.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, Dr Minnis revealed several recommendations from the Economic Recovery Committee, adding the body was instructed to be bold and specific with its suggestions to combat the current economic crisis.
The group’s recommendations include the full legalisation of marijuana for medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes coupled with a regulatory regime that oversees the production and manufacturing, sale, consumption and export of marijuana.
He said the government was also reviewing the possible legalisation of a hemp industry.
He added the government is significantly increasing funding to the Small Business Development Centre with a view to embracing the ERC’s recommendations.
The Killarney MP said $250m over five years will be given to SBDC as a broad, sustained recovery requires Bahamian businesspeople to have the funding required to create jobs.
The ERC has also said a review of the Sovereign Wealth Fund legislation is needed to determine what amendments might be required and how a National Sovereign Fund may be constituted.
“In the past few years, the world’s view on marijuana has changed dramatically,” Dr Minnis told parliamentarians Wednesday. "Marijuana is one of the varieties of the cannabis plant. Uruguay and Canada are the two countries that have fully legalised marijuana.
“In numerous other jurisdictions there has been decriminalisation of the possession of small amounts of marijuana while also legalising cannabis plants for various medicinal and industrial purposes. In the United States, for example, marijuana is fully legal in 11 states. Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30. Hemp is legal at the federal level.”
Dr Minis continued: “The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana recommended decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of marijuana in its report in January of this year.
“The government will begin next year, the expunging of records of those convicted for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“The Commission recommended allowing medicinal marijuana use. The ERC has recommended the full legalization of marijuana for medicinal, religious and recreational purposes coupled with an appropriate but nimble regulatory regime that oversees the production and manufacturing, sale, consumption and export of marijuana.
“There is this consistency in the recommendations of both the Marijuana Commission and the ERC: Our cannabis laws are outdated and must change. The global legal cannabis market is already in the billions of dollars with significant projected growth in the years to come.
“We are reviewing the possible legalization of a hemp industry. We will report back to the nation following greater public consultation,” Dr Minnis said further.
“A hemp industry would include variations of cannabis low in THC. Bahamian-owned or majority Bahamian-owned companies must and will lead any new hemp industry in The Bahamas.”
Regarding small businesses, Dr Minnis said funding has been the greatest barrier for entrepreneurs.
“That is why my government created the Small Business Development Centre, extending millions in funding to those who want to start or expand a business. We will now significantly increase the funding to the centre, embracing a key recommendation of the ERC.
“My government will provide $250m to Bahamian businesses over five years. A broad, sustained recovery requires Bahamian businesspeople to have the funding required to create jobs.
“We need our Bahamian entrepreneurs to have money to create new businesses, or to expand existing ones. With entrepreneurship comes risk. Not every idea we lend to will work.
“But some will and the successes of these Bahamian entrepreneurs will be our shared success.”
Apart from this, the Prime Minister said three major investment projects are still projected to come on stream.
These include a port operation and lease agreement with Nassau Cruise Port Ltd for the redevelopment and operation of Prince George Wharf and related areas, with a capital investment of $200m. Environmental studies are complete and work is ongoing.
The demolition of the customs warehouse has taken place and the demolition of Festival Place is imminent, Dr Minnis said.
ITM and RCCL’s purchase of the Grand Lucayan Hotel and related properties; as well as the re- development of a cruise port remains on stream and the GoldWyn’s construction remains on target.
Dr Minnis also revealed that work on two schools has started. This includes a new government-operated school on Ragged Island, near completion and preliminary work for a school in Inagua.