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Medicinal Marijuana’s $500m Economic ‘Blow’

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By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

A MARIJUANA advocate yesterday estimated the sector could be worth “more than half a billion dollars” to The Bahamas by 2025, its chairman urging: “Either run to it or be dragged kicking and screaming”.

Terry Miller, chairman of the Bahamas Cannabis Research Institute (BACARI), told Tribune Business that a legal medical marijuana industry could generate more than $100m for the Bahamian economy “within the first few years”.

Although no supporting research or economic impact studies were produced, he said BACARI was seeking to lead an awareness campaign on the drug’s medicinal benefits, arguing that its decriminalisation and industrialisation throughout the Caribbean was inevitable.

“Some may argue that a marijuana industry in The Bahamas would not reap significant rewards due to our size, but that is not true,” said Mr Miller.

“We estimate that this industry could easily be worth over $100m early within the first few years, rising to more than half a billion dollars by 2025. More than six million tourists visited The Bahamas in 2016, and the figure is expected to rise in the coming years with the huge increase in room availability and the widespread increase in Airbnb.

“While many of these persons will be casual users, many more will require prescriptions to be filled, bolstering our fledgling medical tourism market. However, the economic value doesn’t end there,” said Mr Miller. “This could create a significant opportunity for farmers. The Caribbean can really get into this market because of our weather.

“Why would Canada have to buy from Jamaica? Jamaica has a certain strain of marijuana and climate year round. We have that, too. We can become competitive if we can change the minds of our people and our leaders.”

The CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana was to this week present the findings of a study it conducted on marijuana decriminalisation in the region at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting. It was asked by CARICOM in 2014 to fully assess the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean.

According to the Jamaica Gleaner, the Regional Marijuana Commission (RMC) report argues that a strictly-regulated framework for marijuana, akin to that for alcohol and tobacco, should be introduced. It said there was a unanimous view that the current classification for cannabis/marijuana as a dangerous drug, with no value or narcotic, should be changed to a classification of legal cannabis as a “controlled” substance.

The Jamaican newspaper said there was also unanimity on the need to ensure protections for children and young persons against possible adverse effects from cannabis. The Commission reportedly advised that prohibitions on use by children and young persons should be maintained, except for medical reasons, and called for treatment and diversion programmes for youth users instead of prosecution.

Jamaica has legislated the possession of marijuana up to two ounces as a petty offense, and individuals are permitted to cultivate up to five plants. The country’s first medical marijuana dispensary was opened in March this year.

Mr Miller said BACARI is “fully aligned” with the Commission’s findings, adding: “This industry should not be set aside for the wealthy among us or for the chosen few, but the average Bahamian; the small man should be given an opportunity to participate in this industry.

“We are committed to this and seek to meet with civil society, have town meetings, meet with the Christian Council, the Bar Association and the police. We know what our position is. We want to hear the opposition because we know that when confronted with the facts people can change their minds.”

A recent Public Domain survey has found overwhelming support for medical marijuana among Bahamian residents across demographics of age, gender and income. Seventy-one percent of 998 residents surveyed said they believed marijuana should be legalised for medicinal purposes, and of those aged 55 and older, 179 people – 59 percent – supported legalisation.

Respondents ranked marijuana as the least harmful substance in comparison to tobacco, alcohol and sugar. However, 47 percent of residents strongly agreed that the legalisation of medical marijuana will lead to an increase in recreational use.

A MARIJUANA advocate yesterday estimated the sector could be worth “more than half a billion dollars” to The Bahamas by 2025, its chairman urging: “Either run to it or be dragged kicking and screaming”.Terry Miller, chairman of the Bahamas Cannabis R

Caribbean nations study proposal to increase revenue by marketing marijuana

Caricom leaders may begin debating whether to legalize cannabis as early as next year

The Caricom bloc of nations may soon be debating a controversial measure; whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and cultivate an industry to spark growth among the 15 member countries.

The matter has been brought to the forefront by the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, who wrote a letter on September 2 to the Caricom chair calling for preliminary talks on the issue.

“I think it is high time that Caricom addresses, regionally, this matter in a sensible, focused, non-hysterical manner,” Gonsalves said. “After all, the marijuana plant has a bundle of proven, and potentially beneficial uses.”

But not all members are open to his proposal: St. Kitts and Nevis opposes the idea while Jamaica, where “ganja” is smoked among the island’s Rasta community and used in religious rituals, welcomed the move.

Caricom chairwoman Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, has commissioned a study on the pros and cons of the legalization of marijuana, and will officially present it to the heads of governments in February. Gonsalves, an economist who represents Unity Labor Party (ULP), has clarified that he is not asking that marijuana be legalized but merely calling for frank talks and debate on the issue.

“The longer we wait to give serious regional consideration to this subject, the further behind we will lag in the inevitable legitimatization of medical marijuana globally,” Gonsalves said, explaining that the United States is already “miles ahead of all other countries” in legitimate cultivation, research, production, and distribution of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.

“In the end, our Caribbean would consume medical, health, cosmetic, and other products derived from marijuana legally grown and produced in the USA,” he said in his letter to Persad-Bissessar.

Marijuana has been legalized in 20 of the 50 US states.

The 15 member nations of Caricom – the majority of them insular states – produce similar goods and services, such as sugar and bananas, and all have active tourism industries. But in comparison, their modest economies are unequal. The per capita income in the Bahamas – the richest nation in the bloc – was $21,985 in 2010 while in Haiti – which has had a string of political crises and environmental disasters over the years, including a devastating earthquake in January – the per capita income is $671, according to the most positive statistics.

Jamaican scientist Henry Lowe, one of the most popular researchers in the field of marijuana use for medicinal purposes, helped develop a cannabis-derived pharmaceutical in the 1980s to treat glaucoma. He has come out in favor of his country marketing marijuana to boast the economy.

“I think Jamaica has got a clear leadership role in medical ‘ganja,’ and I am calling on the government of Jamaica, including the parliamentary opposition, to take a look at this so we can move forward and do what we need to do … because it has real potential,” Lowe told a forum in August.

The sale and use of marijuana is illegal throughout the entire Caribbean, but possession of small quantities of up to 14 grams for personal use is tolerated in the majority of the nations.

“Pot tours” are common in some islands, such as Jamaica, where tourists pay $50 to visit places such as Nine Mile, the tiny hometown of reggae legend and famous toker Bob Marley, and the fields where marijuana is cultivated.

In parts of St. Vincent, the elderly drink marijuana in a tea as a remedy to ease arthritis and asthma.

Nevertheless, there are still many, such as St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, a physician, who warn of the negative effects of marijuana.

“I want to remind you that the growing and sale of marijuana is illegal and dangerous, and this government is committed to eradicating all the marijuana that is gown in our beloved country,” he told troops in August before they were sent out to destroy marijuana farms.

He said that marijuana “makes people go crazy” and “ruins lives.”

A good part of the marijuana that is cultivated in the Caribbean is destined for US markets. On September 16, the US Coast Guard confiscated 3,000 kilos of marijuana in two boats flying the Jamaican flag off the coast of Florida.

Caricom leaders may begin debating whether to legalize cannabis as early as next year