By Iñigo ‘Naughty’ Zenicazelaya
AFTER numerous columns in this very space, offering sound advice and some viable options for the Bahamas, and all Bahamians in regards to the legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana and the construction of the Marijuana Bill.
I can honestly say I am thoroughly disappointed in what I’ve seen floating around as the alleged “leaked” version of the proposed Marijuana Bill.
It is lacking severely!!
The alleged “leaked” bill closes off the industrial, religious and recreational uses of marijuana and only concentrates on the medicinal purposes and the special interest groups attached.
Expungement of criminal records for simple possession of marijuana was also presented initially but wasn’t addressed at all in the “leaked” bill.
The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana recommended that marijuana should be legalised as a sacrament for the Rastafarian community and other groups that practice the use of marijuana, especially as a religious sacrament.
The commission further recommended that such groups be allowed to cultivate cannabis for sacramental use in zoned or regulated areas.
Sadly, the leaked bill does not address these recommendations.
Point blank, it does not allow people to possess marijuana for religious purposes.
My good brethren, the royal ambassador for the Ethiopian African Black International Congress, Rithmond McKinney, high priest of the local Rastafarian Bobo Shanti Tribe, raised points of contention with the proposed law changes.
“With the present government about to table the new Medical Cannabis Bill 2021, the injustices our communities have faced for over 50 years still exist. We are bluntly trampled on by this unclear repressive bill that’s not designed to benefit not just the Rastafarian community, but the wider Bahamas.”
McKinney has long called for and lobbied publicly for the Rastafarian community to be a part of the marijuana industry when it finally becomes legal.
Citing that Rastafarians have suffered the most because of their open religious usage of marijuana.
McKinney also stated that he remains disappointed by the government’s delay in bringing the proposed bill to Parliament and the lack of movement on amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act 2021, that would allow for Rastafarians to freely smoke marijuana as a religious sacrament.
The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana recommended decriminalising possession of up to one ounce of marijuana but did not recommend a penalty for being caught with that amount.
In the “leaked” bill, it would remain illegal to possess any amount of marijuana for non-medical purposes in The Bahamas, if the draft legislation passes Parliament and is enacted.
However, people caught with two ounces or less of the substance would be given a notice similar to what traffic violators receive when they commit offences.
They would not be arrested or detained.
According to the draft bill, people would have 30 days from the date of their notice to pay their penalty to the Public Treasury in New Providence or in Grand Bahama or to any Magistrate’s Court or Administrator’s Office on other islands.
My other good friend Mr Renaldo Cartwright, the founder of Marijuana Bahamas, said that a $500 fine for possession of two ounces of marijuana or less would be “ridiculous”.
“It disenfranchises people who are poor,” he said.
“They don’t have any money to pay the fine. And why are we giving Bahamians fines for a joint or two?”
“They are trying to make it seem like they are doing us a favour by saying it isn’t an arrestable offence, but I feel like it doesn’t make a difference.”
Mr Cartwright also criticised the fact that the Bill does not allow people to cultivate small amounts of cannabis plants at their place of residence for non-medical purposes as is allowed in some countries in the region that have decriminalised possession of small amounts of marijuana, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica.
I agree with Mr Cartwright on this, the maximum fine in St Vincent and the Grenadines for having two ounces of cannabis or less is $185.
While the fine in Jamaica is a paltry $5.
Some Caribbean countries offer no penalties for possessing specified amounts of marijuana.
Not to be forgotten Mr Terry Miller, chairman of the Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute (BACARI), told Tribune Business that the proposed Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2021 also failed to speak specifically to industrial hemp and was instead focused almost exclusively on medical marijuana.
“One of the things not circulated in the media was anything about industrial hemp, because what was reported almost seems to speak to industrial hemp, but it steps a little bit out of that area.”
Industrial hemp cultivation has been one of BACARI’s main goals, with Mr Miller praising the value in commercialising industrial hemp a billion dollar industry globally due to its multiple uses from clothing to medicine and paper production to name a few.
Ironically, the Marijuana Bill is full of inconsistencies, eerily similarly to the present administration.
All this time wasted “politicking” about the Marijuana Bill and this is the best this administration and the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana could come up with?
Sadly, if one really dissects the “leaked” Bill it appears to be yet another lucrative industry, earmarked for “special interests groups” once again!
The “haves” will continue to have while the “have nots’’ will continue to have nothing, without any real chance of ever getting any skin in the game.
The Marijuana Bill, like this current administration, seems to be slowly going up in smoke!