By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE Economic Recovery Committee has recommended that up to two ounces of marijuana be made legal for personal use in The Bahamas – this as Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced yesterday that criminal records for those convicted of having small amounts of the substance will be expunged starting next year.
The Minnis administration has not revealed what will constitute having a “small amount” of the drug, but the ERC, in a plan released yesterday, has recommended that “unapproved possession of any amount greater” than two ounces be punishable with a fine only. The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana recommended earlier this year that possession of up to one ounce of the substance be decriminalised for people over 21.
“There is this consistency in the recommendations of both the Marijuana Commission and the ERC: Our cannabis laws are outdated and must change,” Dr Minnis said during a communication in the House of Assembly. “The global legal cannabis market is already in the billions of dollars with significant projected growth in the years to come.”
Dr Minnis said the government is also reviewing the possible legalisation of the hemp industry and will update the public on this after further consultation.
Hemp has low amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, and is usually used for industrial purposes. When ingested, it does not produce the psychotropic effects that marijuana does.
“Bahamian-owned or majority Bahamian-owned companies must and will lead any new hemp industry in The Bahamas,” Dr Minnis said. “Hemp is used in multiple products from clothing to building materials and even in tea bags, such as some Lipton’s tea bags.”
Quinn McCartney, co-chair of the Marijuana Commission, said yesterday that his team is gathering information on how many people could be eligible for record expungement.
“We’re hoping to get more concrete figures and I know the Rehabilitation of the Offenders Committee is doing some research as well looking at expunging records of people convicted of various crimes,” he said. “We’re trying to collect the information to see the magnitude of the impact this could have.”
People taken to court for small amounts of marijuana are rarely sentenced to prison. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, young people and first-time offenders can have their marijuana possession conviction expunged after two years. Everyone else is eligible after five years. This opportunity does not apply to those convicted of having an intent to supply.
The ERC has recommended that under a new regulatory regime for marijuana, cafes, resorts and guesthouses be allowed to provide “on-premises consumption of cannabis subject to special licensing arrangements as a means to support potential cannabis related leisure, medicinal and touristic sub-industries.”
The committee has also recommended that the government make Crown land available to “Bahamians to cultivate cannabis (with special provisions for small scale farmers and the Rastafarian community), and manufacture cannabis-based products.”
Like the Marijuana Commission, the ERC has recommended that the government avoid over regulating the market, saying this could sustain the black market for those unable to “navigate complex bureaucracies”.