By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The former Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader is urging the government to “not just talk but act” on its proposed medical marijuana legislation, adding: “It’s better late than never.”
Branville McCartney, who campaigned on legalising a medical marijuana and industrial hemp industry when he led the party into the 2017 general election, told Tribune Business that what the government is now pledging to do “should have been done years ago”.
Recalling how the now-government and current opposition both ridiculed and dismissed the DNA’s then-position, Mr McCartney said the Minnis administration had been forced by COVID-19’s economic devastation to rethink its approach and embrace plan laid out by its Economic Recovery Committee (ERC).
Speaking after the Prime Minister on Friday said legislation to give effect to a medical marijuana industry is presently being drafted, Mr McCartney said: “I think that has a lot to do with it; the economic fall-out from COVID-19. The Government has to look at ways to develop new industries, quite frankly.
“Our tourism industry is really on hold for the time being. That has a devastating effect on our economy. The Government has to do something to look at different ways to try and stimulate the economy. The factor of COVID-19 has a lot to do with it coming into play.
“There were members of this government a few years ago saying this was never going to happen. The former minister of health [Duane Sands] seemed to be against it. I’m glad to see the Government coming around and making a decision on it.”
Agreeing that Bahamians should hold majority ownership in any medical marijuana industry, while still retaining the ability to joint venture with overseas nationals, Mr McCartney said this nation “certainly doesn’t have anything to lose” in legalising the sector.
“I think we need to get it started post-haste,” he added. “All in all, let’s not just talk about doing the legislation but put it into action. Get the law done, that’s the foundation, but we cannot leave it there. Put it into action.
“We’ve had the Freedom of Information Act and left it there. We cannot just speak and say we’re looking at legislation on this issue. We need to get the law, ensure the law is in place and need to act on it - not have it sitting there and it not being put to good use.”
Mr McCartney spoke out after Dr Hubert Minnis said on Friday: “The Government is in the process of now completing legislation to bring to Parliament to legalise medicinal marijuana so that medical marijuana could be grown by Bahamians here - utilised and exported – medicinal marijuana.”
This comes after Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana Co- Chair Quinn McCartney told The Tribune last week that the body hoped to submit its final report surrounding the use of marijuana to the government in the first quarter of this year.
The Prime Minister did not say how advanced the draft legislation is, and when it might be brought to Cabinet or Parliament, with some likely to view the announcement as a further indication that Dr Minnis is stepping up campaign activities ahead of the upcoming general election.
The Government-appointed Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), in its report late last year, 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.
Its 63-page report, tabled in the House of Assembly, called for “a hybrid approach” to the marijuana issue that includes “decriminalisation for small amounts and legalisation with strict regulatory control offers”.
It added that this provides The Bahamas with “an opportunity for economic growth, increased employment, increased revenue from both excise and VAT taxes and a decrease in crime as criminal elements would no longer be suppliers and distributors”.
The Committee 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”.