As the cannabis industry in the Caribbean continues to move forward at a rapid pace, the Bahamas is set to become the latest country to join the trend.
Hubert Minnis, the Bahamas’ Prime Minister, received a long-awaited report from the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, which recommends legalizing adult-use cannabis for people over the age of 21. And, after a national public education campaign, legalizing cannabis products for medical use from the age of 18. This report, sent to Minnis on January 21, has not been released to the public.
The National Commission was first established in 2018, tasked with consulting citizens and industry stakeholders, to make recommendations to the government regarding cannabis policy. However, the Commission suffered several delays throughout 2019 in part because of Hurricane Dorian.
Part of the Commission’s final report (which was reviewed by Cannabis Wire), also recommends the decriminalization of possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, along with the release of prisoners and the expunging of records for cannabis.
The Commission’s work has been praised by Prime Minister Minnis, who said that the report would inform legislative reform that is a “matter of social justice,” adding that the country should no longer treat Bahamian cannabis users “like criminals.”
“I support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and making the substance legal for medicinal and scientific use.”Hubert Minnis, the Bahamas’s Prime Minister, said during a press conference.
Local entrepreneurs believe the Commission’s report, which requires Bahamians to control at least a 51% stake in all cannabis companies, would allow citizens the ability to gain a foothold in the Caribbean’s burgeoning cannabis industry. Some activists, however, have expressed concern that the industry would go the way of others in the region, which struggled to include indigenous and traditional farmers.
If the Commission’s proposal translates into legislation, the Bahamas could become the first country in the region to legalize adult-use cannabis. Even more limited reforms, like decriminalization and approval of homegrown cannabis, would see the Bahamas joining other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. More recently, Trinidad and Tobago’s government decriminalized the possession of cannabis while Dominica and Saint Kitts and Nevis also move toward cannabis law reform.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by Public Domain, a majority of Bahamians,71%, favor its use for medicinal purposes. However, the survey also showed that opinions differ when it comes to the ownership structure for companies.
According to the survey, 65% of the country’s population supports a legalized medical marijuana industry that would see ownership rights reserved exclusively for Bahamians, with only 23% supporting foreign involvement in the industry. Other respondents said they needed more information about the makeup of the industry before committing to either side, with many citing the potential exclusion of traditional farmers as a concern.
The exclusion of people of color from the cannabis industry is a trend acknowledged by the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana report.
“Globally there has been a complete lockout of people of color and lower socioeconomic status. Interestingly, the population that is locked out is also the population that took the blunt of the blow on the war on drugs. Currently, there is a movement to attempt to right the past wrongs of the criminal justice system and the economic racism that has taken place.”The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana report.
On taxes, according to the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana report, the Bahamian government could earn USD $5 million annually from the legalization and regulation of cannabis, using a taxation regime similar to tobacco and alcohol. The idea maps against suggestions made in another important report, commissioned by CARICOM, the fifteen-member group of Caribbean nations and territories with a mission of joint economic progress.
That report was published in 2018, and the titled “Waiting to Exhale — Safeguarding Our Future Through Responsible Socio-Legal Policy on Marijuana.”
While the potential revenue calculated by the Commission appears relatively small, Terry Miller, head of the Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute said that the figure could easily be multiplied if the legalized industry was extended beyond the Bahamas’ population of just under 400,000 to include tourists and other visitors.
The country welcomed more than seven million visitors in 2019, with tourism accounting for $5.7 billion, almost half of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism.
Miller believes that the cost of cannabis and cannabis-based products, along with the implementation of a low rate of taxation, would be critical to the development of the industry and the elimination of the illicit market.
“We have to focus on keeping the cost of products affordable.”
“Overtaxation of the legal market would encourage the continuation of the black market, which isn’t an ideal situation for the government or citizens.”Terry Miller, head of the Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute.
The report recommended the creation of a range of business licenses for cultivation, processing, retail, research and development, and import and export, among others.
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