By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A MEDICAL marijuana and industrial hemp advocate yesterday praised the Government for its dual track approach in seeking to legalise through upcoming legislation.
Terry Miller, chairman of the non-profit Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute (BACARI), told Tribune Business that the decision to keep both separate was beneficial as he is more keen on industrial hemp as a commercial venture for Bahamians.
He spoke after Ryan Pinder, the attorney general, told the Senate during the Budget debate that the Government will provide separate frameworks for the regulation of medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Previously, the Government had only appeared to focus on medical marijuana regulation, leaving proponents of industrial hemp concerned and frustrated that their chosen product may miss out.
But Mr Pinder affirmed: “We will advance a comprehensive suite of legislation on the regulation of cannabis, creating a new agri-business industry in The Bahamas. This legislation is internationally benchmarked against the countries around the world in the industry.
“The framework will be for the regulation of the medical cannabis industry from the farm to the border, and will also provide a separate regulatory framework for industrial hemp, for wellness products and for pure industrial uses such as clothing, rope and building materials made from hemp. We will also provide a framework for the de-criminalisation of possession of small amounts of cannabis products.”
Mr Miller responded: “What he said made me wonder if he understood what he said. He said there will be the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana.” He argued that this needs to be “thought through more carefully” because the Government could risk “increasing the black market”.
Mr Miller’s reasoning is that if the Government were to decriminalise marijuana without full-scale legalisation or “wholesale regulation” of the plant, then persons that possess wholesale quantities will still be breaking the law. And those who want small quantities will still have to buy marijuana from these black market operators.
Mr Miller said: “We definitely wanted the medical marijuana part of it, but since they are going to do both medical marijuana and industrial hemp, then it is going to be comprehensive. They should be moving together and that’s fine because when you think of medical marijuana and the rest of the world having access to the best medicine that’s helping their people, then you can’t deny your own people access to that. People don’t obey stupid laws. People break stupid laws.”
The Government has been reviewing and benchmarking to its legal reforms to existing Canadian legislation in an attempt to craft The Bahamas’ own version. Mr Miller said: “Canada is a good benchmark to a degree. We need to devise our own based on not only Canada, but there are several others. We need to look at Jamaica and not make the mistake they did.”
The “mistake” that Jamaica made in legalising its cannabis industry was that it allowed too many foreign companies to come in and compete with local farmers, putting many of them out of business or forcing them into co-operatives with and watering down Jamaican ownership in the process.
Mr Miller said: “We need legislation that also protects our young people. That is the most important thing that must be taken into consideration with this new legislation. We need to ensure that it becomes more difficult for underage people to get access to marijuana. It is also critical that a certain amount of money is set aside for treatment and preventative education.”