Bahamas: Marijuana – We Need The Debate

Photo Credit: Shawn Hanna

Two Cabinet ministers yesterday conceded that marijuana use has had a “devastating” impact on communities in the country, but agreed the Bahamas has reached a point where discussions must take place focusing on whether decriminalizing the drug should be a consideration for the government.

While shying away from revealing his personal position on this issue, former deputy commissioner of police, now National Security Minister Marvin Dames said it is easy to decriminalize marijuana but the discussion will have to focus on regulating and managing its use.

This discussion, juxtaposed against how other countries around the world are handling marijuana use, will direct national discourse, Mr. Dames said.

However Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest had a different view. He told reporters yesterday he does not subscribe to this train of thought, adding the Bahamas must chart the way for itself. He said whatever steps the country takes should align with its own traditions, culture and values.

A third Cabinet minister, Dion Foulkes said yesterday he preferred to reserve his personal position until after the Minnis administration makes a collective decision.

A town hall meeting organized by CARICOM’s Regional Commission on Marijuana on Friday night drew strong positions from those attending.

Attendees were greatly in favor of marijuana decriminalization and legalization. How representative the audience was of Bahamians’ views at large was a question that lingered after the event. It was also on the sidelines of this event that Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield said no reasonable person can deny the Bahamas must scrutinize laws that criminalize people possessing small amounts of marijuana.

State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson also emphasized that to ensure the conversation about legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana persists, proponents of change must organize themselves to make the government pay attention.

Mr. Dames said yesterday: “This is a discussion as I said before, that this is where the world is going and we in certainly the Bahamas will too have to look at our position and that will have to be clearly thought out. But we are at the right place. We are now having those discussions to see where the people of this nation will expect for us to go.”

Asked to reveal his personal position on the issue, Mr. Dames said: “I have some thoughts on it but when we discuss it as a Cabinet, most certainly we’ll come back with our position. But I said before we have to come to this point in this country where we begin to debate issues like that. There’s no hidden agenda or no secret. This is what democracy is all about.

“But at the end of the day whatever direction we go we as a government will have to ensure that we are fully prepared. We have been monitoring what has been taking place throughout the United States. Canada is a little ahead of us but at that point as well where they are contemplating it and certainly the Caribbean as well. So this is a global discussion that is currently being had.”

He was also asked what he saw as a former police officer in communities where marijuana use was prevalent.

“Well a devastating one, a devastating one. But we have to look at that in different sections in different phases. For a very long time now . . . I’ve seen discretionary options used by officers and certainly the courts in respect to young people for many years found in possession of small quantities of marijuana. But like any other business whether it’s the illegal lotto business or whether its marijuana, one of the key focus would have to be how do you regulate (and) how do you manage it.”

From a revenue generation stand point, Mr. Turnquest said the discussion will have to go beyond the cash factor.

“There is a saying something about what is it to benefit the world and lose your soul? Something of that nature,” Mr. Turnquest said. “I think this is one of those kinds of considerations. So it’s not purely an economic discussion. We have to look at the social side. “We have to look at how this will affect our communities and network productivity.

“There are two sides to the coin. There are benefits, there is no about it, but there are also drawbacks and so again as I say we have to take a very considered and balanced approach to this and make sure that before we do anything that we consider all aspects of the issue so that we don’t rush head long into something and pay the price later.”