By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance's (DNA) ex-leader has urged The Bahamas to move "post haste" on developing a medical marijuana and hemp industry, saying: "Talk is cheap and money buy land."
Branville McCartney, who headed the party when it placed the creation of such a sector on its 2017 general election campaign platform, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas needed to move "in the direction of decriminalisation and legalisation" as suggested by the Government-appointed Economic Recovery Committee's (ERC) report.
Calling for medical marijuana, in particular, to be a focus, Mr McCartney said its production and export could evolve into a $500m industry for The Bahamas at a time when reviving its economy post-COVID-19 is becoming ever-more critical.
"It is an industry that can help our economy tremendously," he argued. "It has already strengthened into a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada. It's a natural resource that grows everywhere. It's a good move but, of course, we want to make sure it's done in a way that is beneficial to the selling, export and use of it for medicinal purposes.
"It's good for these things to be said, but we need to have it acted on and acted on as soon as possible. I think that if we can act on it quickly we can still catch the boat, or catch the ferry as they say."
Mr McCartney said the DNA's medical marijuana plans were "looked down upon by other members of the political regime", including the present government, when they were articulated during the 2017 general election campaign.
"I'm certainly glad they're looking at it now in a positive light," he added, "but at the end of the day talk is cheap and money buy land. It will be difficult, but I am sure this industry can be comparable to the tourism industry when it started out.
"I would venture to guess it could be $500m starting out in terms of medical marijuana and exporting it. It could start as a $500m industry for this country, and that could go a long, long way in terms of bringing this economy back."
The ERC committee's report recommended that all Bahamas-based companies involved in the production, manufacturing, sale and export of cannabis must have a "minimum" of 50 percent Bahamian ownership.
It also called for the Government to "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".
"The Government should avoid over-regulation of the market, which will have the effect of sustaining a black market for smaller producers or retailers who do not have the means to navigate complex bureaucracies," the ERC added.
It also urged an exemption of CBD products - hemp and hemp derivative products with minimal or no THC levels - "from the regulatory ambit, and permit their trade with minimal restriction".
Taking up the suggestion in the House of Assembly, the Prime Minister said both the ERC and National Commission on Marijuana were united in their belief that the marijuana laws "are outdated and must change".
“The Commission recommended allowing medicinal marijuana use. The ERC has recommended the full legalisation 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," Dr Hubert Minnis said.
"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 and will report back to the nation following greater public consultation.
"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. Hemp is used in multiple products from clothing to building materials and even in tea bags, such as some Lipton’s tea bags. There are potentially many opportunities for creative Bahamian businesspeople to get involved in this new industry."