By LETRE SWEETING
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Davis administration released a compendium of bills that would transform cannabis use in The Bahamas from a strictly illegal activity to an industry regulated for medical, recreational, religious and scientific research purposes.
Officials discussed the long-anticipated proposal during yesterday’s briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister.
People caught with less than 30 grams of the substance would face a $250 fixed penalty, which would not appear on their criminal record if paid in time.
Those found with more than five hundred grams of dried cannabis would be presumed to possess the substance intending to supply it to others and could face a fine of up to $250k or imprisonment of up to ten years, or both. Possessing cannabis with the intent to supply it to a minor could carry a stiffer penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.
Attorney General Ryan Pinder said: “There are offences related to the unlawful possession, possession with intent to supply, possession of unauthorised amounts of cannabis, production, unauthorised smoking of cannabis in public places and misrepresentations as to medical conditions.
“If you are outside the scope of this piece of legislation, you are committing an offence. If you are buying cannabis for recreational purposes, you are committing an offence. If you’re selling cannabis without a licence, you are committing an offence. If you are importing cannabis into the country without a licence, you are committing an offence. Those have not changed as a result of this legislation.”
“We are proposing that current records be expunged for possession of amounts less than 30 grams.”
Several licences could be obtained under the proposed regime: a cultivation licence to permit the growing, harvesting and packaging of cannabis; a retail licence to sell cannabis and cannabis accessories for medical, scientific research and religious purposes; an analytical testing licence; a manufacturing licence for the manufacturing and packaging of cannabis and cannabis accessories; a research licence; a transport licence to deliver cannabis within the country; and a religious use licence.
Cultivation, retail, transport and religious use licences would be reserved for Bahamian citizens 21 years or older or companies that are one hundred per cent beneficially owned by one or more Bahamian citizens.
Analytical testing licences, manufacturing licences and research licences could be obtained by entities for which one or more Bahamian citizens beneficially own at least 30 per cent of the company.
“It is also a priority that these opportunities are accessible to many Bahamians, a priority that will be evident in the award of cultivation licences and the provision of agricultural land that will be set aside for this specific purpose,” Mr Pinder said.
Rastafarian organisations could get a religious use licence to distribute cannabis to members as a sacrament. However, the substance could only be used on the premises for which the licence or exempt event permit was issued.
“We know there is a number of different churches and divisions within the Rastafarian religion, but it’s the organisation that has to be licensed,” Mr Pinder said. “They’re the ones under the license that have the mandate to distribute amongst their members.
“They’ll have to provide a list of membership to the authority so the authority can keep a record of the membership of the Rastafarian organisation in order to be able to properly trace and track that. So it is a regulated framework. You can’t just say, ‘I’m a Rastafarian, I’m going to smoke’. It is done at the organisational level, with the dispensing for religious purposes at the organisational level to its membership, in prescribed uses, in prescribed forms.”
Altogether, the compendium of proposed legislation includes 11 bills, regulations and orders.
Legislation amending the Dangerous Drug Act and the Pharmacy Act to reclassify cannabis as a controlled substance is part of the compendium of bills.
“This draft legislation will seek to remove Indian hemp from all current medical legislation and replace it with cannabis,” said Health Minister Dr Michael Darville.
“This will create the space for CBD products, an Indian Hemp industry and bring equitable access to cannabis medical products as an option in support in the care of medical patients. It also gives way for the amendment of the Pharmacy Act because, in the new regime, we are proposing a cannabis dispensary and a cannabis dispenser.”
He said 18 medical conditions could be treated with cannabis, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. The list could change depending on medical evidence.
Dr Darville said his ministry is sensitive to concerns about how social ills could be magnified by the increased use of cannabis in the country.
“Our aim is to strike a balance that would allow patients in need to access cannabis while maintaining public safety and security throughout the country,” he said.
“It is important to note that medical cannabis is not intended for children, teenagers or pregnant women. We have taken great strides to ensure that we protect these potential risks and the impacts associated with these vulnerable groups because of the possible damage to the neurological system in the early forms of brain development.
“We know that there will be exceptions to this rule and if you search the literature, you will see where medical cannabis is sometimes given in the paediatric group for some forms of refractory epilepsy and other illnesses. But this would be done on a case-by-case basis.”
Under the regime, a Cannabis Authority would regulate the industry, overseeing the development of policies, procedures and guidelines related to various substance uses.
The authority would be a board-managed corporation comprising nine representatives from government, medical and pharmaceutical professions, agricultural, business, and finance sectors, academia, and the faith-based and civil society communities.
Dr Darville said public consultations on the legislation will occur next month, though meetings with various stakeholders have already begun.
Officials said the government had consulted people in the business, religious, healthcare, and law enforcement sectors.
Mr Pinder said he wants to consider the public’s feedback through October before tabling the compendium of bills in Parliament. He wants the legislation debated by the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of work that’s going to be put into setting up the authority, setting up the training, setting up the certification, setting up the digital platform,” he said. “It’s going to be for the tracing and the prescriptions and all of that has to be done before the first licence is even issued.”