By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
DESPITE recent talks of marijuana legislation being tabled in the House of Assembly in upcoming weeks, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the bill, which will specifically look at the regulation of medicinal cannabis in the country, has yet to be finalised.
He made the comments while speaking to the press after viewing the body of former Cabinet minister, the late Sir Charles Carter, who lay in state in the House of Assembly last Friday.
“With respect to marijuana, we have not yet completed the marijuana bill,” he said. “We’re looking specifically at medicinal marijuana, and we’ll have just like we did with the National Drug Plan where they had specific committees that monitored disease processes so that new diseases can be added to the list of the requirement(s) for marijuana.”
Dr Minnis said they would also have a “specific committee” to ensure that even the physicians who are involved in prescribing marijuana as a medication will go through “special training and understanding” to avoid any “abuse or mishandling”. He also said it would be handled “almost similar to narcotics”.
“As you know, as a physician, we can only prescribe a certain amount of let’s say morphine, cocaine, etc, and that is to monitor the situation so that we don’t end up in a situation where individuals or physicians themselves abuse it, so we’re looking at it very closely,” he explained.
When asked if he could say when the bill would be tabled in the House of Assembly, Dr Minnis said he could not answer that question at this “particular point in time”.
“Obviously you know we’ve gone through a process already in the House of Assembly and we would be doing the budgetary items at this point in time,” he said.
“So, we would meet as a grouping — ministers, parliamentarians — and we would prepare to present our budget and our future plans for the Bahamian people and we would be specifically concentrating on delivering, making available at least about $50 million annually for young people and for Bahamians at large, so that they could use that to invest and start their entrepreneurship and businesses that they want to.”
If a draft amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act — which was circulated earlier this month — becomes law, people who are caught with two ounces of cannabis or less would face a fixed penalty of $500.
The penalty, if finalised, would be one of the largest fines in the region among countries that have decriminalised small amounts of marijuana. 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 only $5. Some Caribbean countries offer no penalties for possessing specified amounts of marijuana.
A draft Medical Cannabis Bill has also been circulated, which outlines that medicinal marijuana would only be allowed to be smoked in a private residence or a medical facility.
A patient smoking medical marijuana outside these areas would be committing an offence.
The leaked bills are not the final versions of the legislation.
Nonetheless, it would remain illegal to possess any amount of marijuana for non-medical purposes in the country 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 one of the draft bills, 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.
Police officers can refer people to the National Drug Council, or another body prescribed by the minister if a person in possession of two ounces of cannabis or less is either under 18 or is older than 18 but has received a fixed penalty notice more than once within a three-month period.
People who do not pay the fixed penalty would be required to perform unpaid work for no fewer than 40 hours and no more than 360 hours as specified by courts. Judges can fine such people $1,000 if they are not satisfied that arrangements can be made for them to perform work under an order or for them to be properly supervised.
Under the draft bill, people who have more than two ounces of cannabis could still face severe punishment, including up to ten years in prison or a fine not exceeding $100,000.