Bahamas: Prime Minister Commits to Medicinal Cannabis, But Not Adult-Use

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Legislation to legalize medical cannabis in the Bahamas is near completion, though lawmakers in the tourism-dependent island archipelago appear unlikely to include language for adult-use. 

On February 5, Hubert Minnis, the country’s Prime Minister, announced a plan to move forward with legislation focused on medical cannabis, one week after establishing a sub-committee of the Bahamian Cabinet of Ministers to develop a plan for its implementation. The sub-committee, which will be headed by Attorney General Carl Bethel, will also deal with the matters relating to the expungement of records for cannabis-related charges. If signed to law, the legislation would allow Bahamians to grow, use, and export medical cannabis. 

“I also want especially the young people to hear that we are aggressively moving toward expunging the records of young people, and many have been done already,” Minnis said Friday in Elbow Cay, Bahamas. “Because too many of our young people have been arrested for minor offenses including minimal use of mariuana, and their life has been totally destroyed in that they cannot obtain proper jobs, they cannot visit the United States, and their futures are destroyed. I invite all who would have been charged with such minor offenses to apply.”

The announcement comes just weeks before the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, established in 2018 and tasked with consulting citizens and industry stakeholders in order to make recommendations to the government regarding cannabis policy, is due to deliver its final report on the establishment of a cannabis industry. The report is expected to contain a previously unpublished survey meant to codify public opinion on the scope of cannabis reforms. The survey was conducted in the final quarter of 2020 and included 1,000 respondents across the Bahamas.

A preliminary version of the Commission’s report reviewed by Cannabis Wire last year included both medical and adult use legalization. The Commission’s work was delayed by the impact of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed reforms back in multiple Caribbean jurisdictions over the last year.

According to Minnis, who emphasized the development of a “medicinal” industry during his statement, the legislation will be brought to parliament in short order so that “cannabis will be grown by Bahamians here, utilized, and exported.”

While the results of the 2020 survey haven’t been shared, the Prime Minister’s approach is in line with previous public opinion polling on the issue. According to polling done in 2018 by Public Domain, a market research company, the majority (71%) of Bahamians favor cannabis use for medicinal purposes. 

Minnis’ plan, however, would fall short of the recommendations put forth by the country’s Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), which was asked by the Prime Minister to research and develop strategic recommendations to inform the government’s policies to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the Committee’s report, which was submitted in October, the “legalization of cannabis for recreational, religious and medicinal use” could generate tax revenue and stimulate economic growth in the medium-term to long-term. The ERC noted that the widespread use of cannabis globally, along with high levels of incarceration in the region, had already placed significant pressure on governments to review existing laws.

To this end, the Economic Recovery Committee suggested decriminalization, in the style of Trinidad and Tobago, along with a “strict and nimble regulatory regime” to oversee the production, manufacturing, sale, consumption, and exportation of cannabis. 

The ERC also recommended that government-owned lands be made available for the cultivation of cannabis and manufacturing of cannabis-based products, with special provisions for small-scale farmers and indigenous and Rastafarian communities, along with government-led training programs on cannabis cultivation and production of cannabis-based products.

It also warned against the over-regulation of the market, since this could lead to a continuation of the illicit market, and also suggested the deregulation of, or minimal restrictions on, CBD and other hemp products.

While it’s unclear how much of the work of the Economic Recovery Committee will be adopted, further details on the scope of the reforms are expected in the coming weeks when Minnis receives the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana’s final report.

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