Many farmers are excited about the possibility of growing cannabis, according to Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Jomo Campbell, who predicted the government’s “progressive approach to cannabis” will result in a reduction in the backlog of the courts.
“Of course, I know you can feel the excitement in the air and that’s probably why you’re posing the question to me,” said Campbell when asked about plans for cannabis growing at an event at the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC).
“Anything new in The Bahamas, you know we like and we love. This industry is going to create a new window of opportunity and growth.
“As the chairman said, something is always growing in BAIC and we always want to keep something going in The Bahamas legally.
“It’s definitely creating a buzz but we want to get it right. In the midst of excitement we can sometimes let our passion and emotion run away with us and the legal personality in me always tends to lean towards this idea of getting it right before we implement it rather than having to fix and fix and fix after implementation.”
Last month, the government released a compendium of 11 cannabis related bills for consultation with provisions including decriminalizing cannabis under 30 grams, legalizing medicinal and religious use of cannabis, and expunging criminal records for cannabis possession under 30 grams.
Attorney General Ryan Pinder told reporters that the proposed legislation is based on the findings of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana, which released its report in 2018.
That report recommended an end to overly restrictive prohibitions of cannabis, and urged countries to embrace a health rights centered approach through sweeping legislative reform.
“I’m sure you’re aware of the recent sessions that were held just a month ago,” Campbell said.
“I was still in the attorney general’s office. Some of those sessions were held with various different groups from across the country – the Rastafarian community, the Christian community and also small farmers.
“That is expected to carry on up until the Opening of Parliament, which is set for next Wednesday in order to make sure when we table the bills it’s a collection of ideas from everyone. We don’t ever want to point out as if we know it all. What may work in Andros may not work in Abaco.”
While Pinder was also clear that the proposed legislation would not legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, the legislation would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“In the context of possession of less than 30 grams, there is a fixed penalty currently proposed at $250, which if paid within a specific time will not be reflected on the offender’s criminal record,” Pinder said last month.
Campbell, a criminal defense attorney by profession, said he was pleased to see the decriminalization element of the draft bill.
“These sorts of minor infractions that go hand in hand with simple possession of dangerous drugs, sometimes they scar an individual for life,” he said.
“You have teenagers who make sometimes boyish, childish mistakes, and they have records attached to them that they can never get over.
“It prohibits them from traveling, it prohibits them from seeing the world. That tends to shrink the mindset of certain persons. So to see this opening up, it really affects the country on many different levels and will definitely go to impact and relieving some of the backlog in the courts as well.”
The cultivation of cannabis would not be a free for all.
All individual licensees must be Bahamian and at least 21.
As to legal entities who apply for a license, all cultivation, retail, transport and religious use licenses must be 100 percent Bahamian owned, and all analytical, testing, manufacturing or research licenses must be at least 30 percent Bahamian owned.
In its pre-election document, “Our Blueprint for Change”, the Progressive Liberal Party promised to develop a cannabis industry if elected.
The party said it would “develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for growing, harvesting, and exporting cannabis, so that the industry creates opportunities for many, not just a few”.
It committed to encouraging joint-ventures in the medicinal cannabis industry.
The party also said it would “ensure that ALL Bahamians are given full access to development, and have a fair opportunity to become owners in this new industry”.