Marijuana Report Tabled

Mr. Speaker:
In coming to office, it was the objective of my Government to pursue policies to uplift Bahamians – and especially those who come from modest backgrounds as I did.

In The Bahamas we have a criminal justice system that needs reform in a number of areas, including the
possession of small amounts of marijuana.

We arrest, prosecute, detain, and punish people for possession of small quantities of the plant, which they use for religious, personal, or medical reasons.

Coming from an Over-the-Hill community, I have seen firsthand how our laws especially harm young people from humble beginnings.

Our laws have unnecessarily burdened some of our citizens with criminal records, making travel and finding work more difficult.

It is essential that we change our marijuana laws.

The unfairness must stop.

We must stop stigmatizing many of our young people and citizens.

This is a matter of social justice! This is a matter of fairness! This is a matter of rebirth and redemption!

I am heartened by the widespread public support for this process, including from many religious leaders.

In October 2018, Cabinet established the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana with the mandate to examine the legal, social, medical, and religious issues related to the use of this plant.

Bishop Simeon Hall and Retired Deputy Commissioner of Police Quinn McCartney chaired the Commission, which was comprised of a cross section of Bahamians from the public and private sectors.

On Tuesday, January 21, the Commission presented its Final Preliminary Report to the Office of the Prime Minister.

I thank the Commission and its staff for their hard work preparing this document.

Regrettably, an incomplete version of the report was leaked to the media.

My Government pledged openness with the marijuana reform process.

Today in fulfillment of that pledge I am tabling the Final Preliminary Report for all to see.

The Final Report is expected to be released following a national survey, which the Commission is currently
working on.

This survey will codify and present an analysis of the views of the Bahamian people.

There are those in public life who like to talk plenty, but who are not good at follow through and action.

My Government will use this report to assist with changing our marijuana laws. I have publicly given my positions.

I support decriminalising the possession of small amounts of marijuana and making the substance legal for medical, scientific, or religious use.

I support expunging the records of Bahamians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Once our reform laws are passed and through proper legal mechanisms and procedures, I also support the release from prison of any person who may be solely incarcerated for small marijuana possession.

The main recommendations of the Commission in the Report are as follows:
• The legalization of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes;
• To allow those prescribed medical cannabis to grow sufficient plants for their use;
• Tourists who are prescribed medical cannabis in their countries could obtain it in The Bahamas;

• Allowing the importation of regulated cannabis products for ailments;
• Decriminalization of possession of one ounce or less of cannabis for personal use for people 21 years or older
• That the laws be amended for the immediate expungement of the criminal records of all people convicted of simple possession of cannabis;

• That Rastafarians and other religious groups who use cannabis as a sacrament be allowed to possess, cultivate and use it for sacramental purposes;
• That the cannabis industry be Bahamian owned with Bahamian ownership being at least 51%. Foreign companies could partner with Bahamians and hold up to 49% equity in the company.

A nationwide comprehensive public education program will be carried out before we change these laws.

This program will be age-appropriate and target all segments of society, including a focus on school children and individuals under the age of 21.

Mr. Speaker:
The marijuana reforms my Government will deliver will work in parallel with our broader effort to change how we treat people with criminal convictions.

Our criminal justice system should not just be about punishment.

There must be fairness, rehabilitation, and mercy too.

We are a people mostly of Christian faith, of hope and redemption.

It must be our mission to renew, to restore and to repair lives.

Those willing to turn away from a life of crime should get a second chance.

All of us make mistakes. For minor offenses and for young, first-time offenders we should not hold convictions over their heads and lives for a lifetime.

We seek an overhaul of the rehabilitation process.

I have met with representatives of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Committee.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders [Amendment] Act 2015, was gazetted on 24 November 2015, by the former administration.

It mandated the establishment of a committee that would review expungement applications of first time and young offenders.

The committee was never appointed by the Christie Administration.

The FNM government appointed the committee headed by former commissioner Paul Farquharson in 2019.

The committee began its work on 25 September 2019, and is doing a tremendous job.

The Committee has the power to recommend expunging the records of those who meet the criteria – especially
young people and first-time offenders.

My Government will provide the Committee with the resources it needs to get its work done, including office space, staff and other resources.

We want to give our fellow Bahamians who have changed, and who are willing to change, a freedom and future they have been deprived of, because of minor and in some cases decades-old offences.

We were elected to this place on a People’s Agenda. We are a Government of expanding freedom and creating better futures for the people.

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.

As a fellow-Bahamian, as the Member of Parliament for Killarney and as your Prime Minister, I have heard your stories and pleas about how unfair the system is. Thousands of Bahamians who will find hope and new life in these life-giving and powerful reforms.

My Government will act to help restore the hopes and lives of the many

The time for change has come!

I thank you Mr. Speaker, and I now table the Report of the Marijuana Commission.
May God bless our Bahamas and may the God of New Beginnings bless those who seek a fresh start, a second chance and rebirth.