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Marijuana co-chair’s fear on enforcement ‘black market’

Commission co-chairs Bishop Simeon Hall, left, and Quinn McCartney. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

Commission co-chairs Bishop Simeon Hall, left, and Quinn McCartney. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The co-chair of the Government-appointed commission that examined legalising medical marijuana yesterday voiced fears that weak enforcement could spur creation of “a black market”.

Bishop Simeon Hall, speaking after the Government tabled in the House of Assembly a long-awaited package of Bills to legalise and regulate such activities, told Tribune Business he remains concerned that a lack of will and capacity to properly regulate the sector could “exacerbate some of the social problems” presently facing The Bahamas.

While backing medicinal marijuana for both its potential health and economic benefits, he admitted this nation does “not have a good track record of enforcing almost anything” as it has multiple statute laws that are not properly or fully implemented.

With the Cannabis Bill and accompanying regulations, plus other supporting legislation, now having reached Parliament, Bishop Hall told this newspaper: “I support the idea of medical marijuana. I think it does have some medicinal benefits. Our committee, though, was worried about enforcement of the law to make sure it did not exacerbate some of the social problems.

“We have enough social problems now. I felt that if we can take the money out of drugs it would decrease how it impacts on other social problems. That’s what the committee tried to do: Let’s bring about legislation like other Caribbean countries. Bring about legislation of medical marijuana, not increase marijuana use in the country.”

The Bills tabled in the House of Assembly on Wednesday move The Bahamas closer to legalising cannabis for medical and religious use while decriminalising possession of small amounts. “It’s already in the country. That’s what a lot of people miss,” Bishop Hall added.

“We drove and walked on many different streets and could find it [marijuana] on almost every street. I can name you nine homes where people are selling marijuana now. We said we have to provide for, to bring, some regulation for dealing with it, but we were concerned about how do we enforce this? The enforcement at the same time.

“How do you legislate something that could be going on the black market? We’re not good at enforcement. We do not have a good track record of enforcing almost anything. We have a lot of things in the law books but don’t enforce it.”

Bishop Hall acknowledged that, under the legislative package tabled in Parliament, medical marijuana can only be acquired from a licensed “cannabis dispensary” that is operated by a certified pharmacist. “You can’t go and buy it on the street,” he added. “It was never going to be a free for all for the streets where you could go and buy it.

“What we need to guard against is marijuana being so popular that any ‘John Brown’ goes down the street and buys it. The regulations should be enforced. If they don’t do what is needed in enforcing the law, it exacerbates our social problems.

“People that criticised the legislation miss out that it’s common on our streets now. This won’t cause more marijuana to come; it’s on the street now. I didn’t know it was so common. I faced some personal criticism because I was on the marijuana committee. As a pastor, I never touched marijuana. I wanted to learn about it so that I could speak to persons hooked on it and selling it,” Bishop Hall continued.

“I said: Let’s regulate it. I support the Government wholeheartedly with regulating it, but make sure in regulating it that it’s not a free for all like you find in other nations.” Branville McCartney, the former Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader whose party made medical marijuana and its legalisation a core campaign issue in the 2017 general election, yesterday backed the bishop’s concerns.

“Absolutely. This is The Bahamas,” he said. “We have a black market all around. The enforcement of the regulations will be vitally important.” Asked whether The Bahamas is too late in legalising and regulating medical marijuana, Mr McCartney replied: “We’re late but I don’t think we’re too late.

“The benefits of medical marijuana, of course, from a health perspective continue. Not only economically, but it will benefit persons health-wise, which will be a step in the right direction for us moving forward.” Under the new Bills, initial licence fees range from $1,000 to $5,000, while annual licence fees go from $500 to $14,712 depending on the type.

Cultivation, retail, transport and religious use licences are reserved for Bahamian citizens aged 21 years or older, or companies that are 100 per cent beneficially owned by one or more Bahamian citizens.

Analytical testing licences, manufacturing licences and research licences can be obtained by entities where one or more Bahamian citizens beneficially own at least 30 per cent of the company.

The initial fees for cultivation, religious and transport licences are $1,000. For manufacturing, retail and research licences, the initial fee is $3,000. For an analytical testing licence, the initial fee is $5000. For cultivation purposes, the non-refundable annual licence fee is $2,944 for nurseries, $9,800 for micro-cultivation and $12,600 for standard cultivation.

The non-refundable annual fees for manufacturing, analytical testing, research, transport and retail licences are $14,712; $7,356; $7356; $9,800; and $14,712, respectively. The transport licence fee of $14,712 applies for up to three vehicles. For each additional vehicle, the fee is $7,400.

There are administrative fees for security vetting, electronic database and tracking software services, and inspection fees. The costs range from $2,400 to $200.

Comments

ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

The church is not a liberal institution. Its standard is a book of rules that doesnt akign with any of these permissive behaviours. It baffles me that Simeon Hall gets on all these committees to legalize these addictive behaviours. Even Franklyn Wilson is talking today about the ravaging effects of gambling addiction. This risk wasnt a secret in the debate, they just ignored it while blinded by all the money we'd make. I wont be surprised if he ends as an advocate for the legalization of prostitution

DWW 1 month ago

weak enforcement you say? So you outright fully support locking up and ruing young men's lives for smoking a little bit of backyard weed? I thought the Christian way is to forgive and forget or did I miss read the holy tome?
One little smoke and get catch at 17 or 18 and in an instant that young person''s life is changed forever. they have a criminal record and can never get a decent job which inevitably leads down 1 single pathway that of the criminal always on the wrong side of the law. Does the partially esteemed but self appointed boship truly want to disadvantage the poor? The existing system and the proposed changes are INTENTIONALLY designed to disenfranchise the pool and disadvantaged. The wealthy can hire an attorney and pay a fine and walk away. the young man on the block gets 6 months and permanent record. I hope no single person attends this dolt's church, he certainly isn't looking out for the less fortunate. Did jesus not wash the lepers feet or am I mixing that up with something else? stay stuck in the 1950's grandpa, we don't need you anymore.

DWW 1 month ago

does the 'godly' man teatotal or no?

DWW 1 month ago

does the 'learned' one support continuing the very large income to the gangs who need the weed to stay illegal so they can fund their lifestyle? lets talk about the issue with sense and not a 1920's prohibition mindset of one size fits all. Do you take expensive pharmaceuticals is that better just because it is legal?

ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

The problem with this marijuana debate is it's all disingenuous. The people advocating for the passage of the law either want the ability to smoke marijuana openly as they move about the city, at times operating a fast moving vehicle, as they likely already do btw, or they want the right to sell marijuana openly to these people and make alot of money.

Literally nobody is really interested in easing the pain of cancer patients.

Nothing surprised me more than the rastafarians fighting for a license to sell marijuana, historically their fight was all about the trampling of their religious rights, now they see dollar signs.

Everything is vanity.

temptedbythefruitofanother 1 month ago

The out of control Jetski thug gangs have been selling weed for decades on all of the beaches of the Bahamas and the authorities have never done anything about it, I highly doubt "enforcement" will change one iota.

Now when the Jetski boys take a break from their dalily beating, robbing and raping of tourists on Bahamas beaches they can add "medicinal" pot to their catalogue of illegal substaces freely available to anyone who waves them down

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