By Syann Thompson
Tribune Staff Reporter
RETIRED Archbishop Drexel Gomez fully supports the decriminalisation and medical use of marijuana but insists there must be major control over the substance.
After reviewing the draft report from the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, Archbishop Gomez agreed on decriminalising marijuana and also supports the use of medical marijuana.
However, the Archbishop does not support recreational use and urged the government to place strict controls that he believes is critical to protect the common good.
The commission recommended that recreational cannabis be permitted for adults over 21 years and medicinal cannabis for adults over 18.
“There’s no doubt whatsoever that there is a positive role for cannabis in the medical field, but my concern is how is that going to be controlled. I am strongly in favour of decriminalisation. But you must still restrict the use of cannabis in the community. If you legalise it to open it up to the public that would be a serious, serious error. There is no question that there are some negative aspects of cannabis. To give the impression that you can just open the flood gates and let everybody use it, would be disastrous,” said Archbishop Gomez.
As the legalisation of marijuana has triggered overwhelming interest in the country; the retired Archbishop said that it is important the narrative on the legalisation of marijuana is clear so that the average person understands.
“I would want to emphasise the aspect of decriminalisation. I especially agree for young men who had to serve prison time for just having a joint, to me it’s only rational and sensible to remove that stigma and I would agree removing that from their criminal record. I would strongly support that as a social issue. In terms of availability, it does seem to me that we have to be extremely careful in controlling the use because there is a feeling in the community that once the law is changed everybody can have a fling and that is nonsense,” said the Archbishop.
An overall authoritative agency should monitor all areas of a cannabis industry according to Archbishop Gomez, from controlling who farms and sells the substance.
“I hope that we would produce one body to control all of the aspects of cannabis. One ministry should have total control over the whole and within the ministry there are departments. So we should create a national organisation responsible for all aspects of cannabis use in the country. This body would be responsible for all of the activities. It would be better for the country if there is one group, one authority that deals with all the issues related to marijuana,” he said.
The commission made an initial recommendation of five marijuana plants per household for those with medical marijuana cards. Gomez disagrees with this and recommended that any farming and sales of marijuana, go through a valid process of distributors being licensed. “Patients being permitted to grow plants; I am concerned over that position. I would be happy if the availability of cannabis for medical use is controlled completely by medical people. Opening up the possibility for patients to growing their own marijuana is to be fraught with difficulties because it can be exploited and lead to serious problems,” he said.
“We must have strong controls at every level. And that means that we must have controls about who is to produce the cannabis and controls as to how it is to be made available to the general public and how it is to be made available for medical use. The government must accept responsibility for putting in the reasonable and necessary controls so that the availability of cannabis is always controlled and not that it is free for all. And that control would be licensing people to grow also licensing people to sell, so we don’t have people walking in the streets trying to sell joints. The control is going to be absolutely crucial if the common good of the nation is to be preserved and enhanced. And I would want to emphasise the importance of the common good, it isn’t for individual enjoyment but whatever rules we put in place, must be to protect the common good.”
As it relates to the commercial benefits of marijuana, Gomez agrees Bahamians should be the majority owners to benefit from the industry. However, he is wary that Bahamians may be portrayed as faces, while foreign entities control the industry. He pointed to Jamaica as an example of a country that has lost control of its cannabis industry to foreigners.
“I see that they are proposing that Bahamians must at least have 51 percent ownership. In the light in what has already happened in our country, I’m concerned about what we call Bahamians fronting for foreigners, we have a history of that. And while on paper we talk about 51 percent we would be opening up ourselves for foreign domination. We already suffer too much from foreign domination in tourism and I would hope that we are taking steps to ensure that we are not again flooded by foreign control of what we are trying to do. Socially and economically, it does seem to me foreign control and foreign dominance is something that we must not only be aware of, but also try to fight against,” he said.
In the process of discussing legalising marijuana and creating legislation, the spiritual leader is encouraging a full-fledged educational campaign for Bahamians to fully understand the basics.
“We must take deliberate steps to educate the nation, and this will involve articles in newspapers, television, radio and local magazines. We must go out of the way to ensure the nation is flooded with information and material because if we don’t really help the nation to understand what is being suggested there will be increasing problems as opposed to reducing it. I hope that no effort would be spared to organise a proper communications effort for the education of the population.”
A draft report from the Bahamas National Marijuana Commission, which was leaked to the media last week, recommends the legalisation of marijuana and decriminalising possession of the substance up to one ounce.
The final report is expected to be submitted and reviewed by Cabinet in the New Year.