Bahamians will have a chance in the coming weeks to weigh in, through a survey, on the scope of the country’s cannabis reforms. The result will help shape legislation and the nation’s next steps.
The survey comes after a preliminary version of the National Commission on Marijuana’s report, presented in Parliament by Prime Minister Hubert Minnis last week, indicated that the Commission is split on whether to recommend legalizing cannabis for adult use. So before proposing legislation on cannabis reform, the Commission agreed to consult the public.
“We want to hear from everybody to get a further feel for what Bahamians think about this issue,” Quinn McCartney, the Commission’s co-chairman, said during a press conference last week, as he explained that the in-person canvassing process that regulators will use for the national survey will be done across all of the Bahamas’ 30 inhabited islands.
An earlier version of the report, which Cannabis Wire reviewed in January, included a recommendation for adult use legalization, in addition to decriminalization of the possession of one ounce or less of cannabis for personal use, as well as legalization of cannabis products for medical use. If the early recommendations had moved forward and passed, the Bahamas would have become the first country in the Caribbean to legalize adult-use cannabis.
However, according to the version presented to the Bahamas Parliament, the recommendation for fully legalizing adult-use for people over the age of twenty-one hinges on three things—on a national public education campaign, an analysis of data following an extended period of decriminalization, and the survey.
According to the report, “Some commissioners were not prepared, at this time, to recommend the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.”
“While Canada recently legalized cannabis for recreational purposes, as well as several states in the US, these commissioners are of the view that there is insufficient information to assess the full societal impact of moving in this direction,” the report continued. “Some commissioners, therefore, recommended that more research be done, and additional data be obtained to make an informed and responsible decision on the legalization of recreational use of cannabis at this time.”
The survey, according to McCartney, will seek to bridge the gap in public polling available on key elements of the commission’s report, such as the question of whether the country should simply decriminalize the possession of cannabis or move toward full legalization. So far, public polling in the country has only been conducted on the issue of cannabis’ use for medicinal purposes, which is supported by 71% of Bahamians, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Public Domain.
The Commission’s Public Relations and Education Subcommittee has called for a multi-year public education campaign on cannabis that would disseminate evidence-based information on health and safety. The government-backed education campaign would be carried out before the country’s laws are changed and would focus on individuals under the age of 21, according to McCartney.
In presenting the report to Parliament last week, Minnis, who has long stated his support for the decriminalization of cannabis possession and making it legal for medical, scientific, and religious use, said he was heartened by widespread public support for the process.
“These proposed reforms are some of the most far-reaching in an independent Bahamas. My government is committed to reforming our marijuana laws and to clearing the records of those who seek to do better,” Minnis said. At the same time, he reiterated that more needed to be done for the Commission’s recommendations to be formed into legislation.