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 country’s 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 “as criminals.”
“I support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and making the substance legal for medicinal and scientific use,” he 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 home grown 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.
A majority of Bahamians, 71%, favor its use for medicinal purposes, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Public Domain. 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 report highlighted.
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, titled “Waiting to Exhale — Safeguarding Our Future Through Responsible Socio-Legal Policy on Marijuana,” was published in 2018.
While the potential revenue calculated by the Commission appears relatively small, Terry Miller, head of the Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute, told Cannabis Wire that the figure could easily be multiplied if the legalized industry was extended beyond 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.
“About four million of our tourists come by cruise ship, there is a great potential for us to capitalize on that,” Miller said, of the possibility of cannabis-related tourism.
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 according to Miller.
“We have to focus on keeping the cost of products affordable,” he said. “Overtaxation of the legal market would encourage the continuation of the black market, which isn’t an ideal situation for the government or citizens.”
The report recommended the creation of a range of business licenses for cultivation, processing, retail, research and development, and import and export, among others.
Some local entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are already betting big on the industry’s success, according to Yorick Brown, whose company Browns Point Ventures has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Lucayan Tropical Produce to lease a 20,000 sq meter hydroponic cannabis greenhouse, with plans to expand the facility’s capacity up to 60,000 sq meters. “It’s a gesture of good faith to show the government and others that investors are ready to go, all we need is are licenses to be in place,” Brown told Cannabis Wire. He explained that the company plans to produce hemp before moving into other parts of the industry.
According to Brown, his company has already committed to investing USD $2 million in the venture and has plans to invest another USD $50 million, borrowed from Bahamian-based lenders.
“Money will flow into the industry, without a problem,” he said. “We have to wait for licensing regulations to be released and granted. Many people are interested in the industry here and we are just waiting on that aspect to be rolled out.”