In the News

Change is Coming: Cannabis Reform is Picking Up Momentum in The Bahamas

As the cannabis industry moves forward at a rapid pace in the Caribbean, it appears that The Bahamas is set to become the next country to get on board. And while COVID-19 puts things at a standstill for the time being, we remain hopeful that cannabis reform will be revisited in the near future. Currently, The Bahamas is almost entirely dependent upon the tourism industry, and this unprecedented time is a startling wake up call: Our economy must make the shift towards self-sufficiency.

The bottom line: Cannabis reform can and will be an absolute game changer for the Bahamian economy. 

Let’s take a step back to the beginning of this year… 

On  January 21, 2020, Prime Minister the Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis received a long-awaited report and proposal from The Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana (BNCM). The proposal makes 24 recommendations on a range of cannabis reform topics, including legalizing cannabis for adults aged 21 and over, and, after a national public education campaign, legalizing medical cannabis products for adults aged 18 and over. The proposal also recommends the decriminalization of possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, along with the release of prisoners who are solely convicted of possession of marijuana, and expunging the records of Bahamians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana. 

The Commission’s work has been praised by the PM, who said that the proposal would inform legislative reform that is a “matter of social justice,” adding that the country should no longer treat Bahamian cannabis users “as criminals.”

During a press conference, the PM made his stance on cannabis reform clear, saying: 

“Our current marijuana prohibition causes unnecessary confrontations between police and citizens. I grew up and come from Over-the-Hill. I have seen firsthand how our laws especially harm young people from modest backgrounds. Many good Bahamians have been burdened with criminal records, making travel to certain countries impossible and finding work more difficult.”

Some local entrepreneurs believe the BNCM’s proposal, which requires Bahamians to control at least a 51% stake in all cannabis companies, would allow Bahamian citizens the ability to gain a strong foothold in the Caribbean’s burgeoning cannabis industry. However, others have expressed concern that the Bahamian cannabis industry would go the way of other Caribbean nations, which tends to favor foreign investors over local farmers and Bahamian-owned businesses. 

If the BNCM’s proposal translates into legislation, The Bahamas could become the first country in the region to legalize adult-use cannabis. Even the more limited reforms, like decriminalization, would see The Bahamas joining other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. More recently, Trinidad and Tobago’s government decriminalized the possession of cannabis while Dominica and Saint Kitts and Nevis also moved toward cannabis law reform.

According to a 2018 survey, 71% of Bahamians favor cannabis use for medicinal purposes. However, the survey also showed that opinions differ when it comes to the ownership structure for companies. According to the survey, 65% of the country’s population supports a legalized medical cannabis industry that would see ownership rights reserved exclusively for Bahamians, with only 23% supporting foreign involvement in the industry. Other respondents said they needed more information about the makeup of the industry before committing to either side, with many citing the potential exclusion of local farmers as a concern.

The exclusion of people of color from the global cannabis industry is a trend acknowledged by the BNCM report and proposal. “Globally there has been a complete lockout of people of color and lower socioeconomic status. Interestingly, the population that is locked out is also the population that took the blunt of the blow on the war on drugs. Currently, there is a movement to attempt to right the past wrongs of the criminal justice system and the economic racism that has taken place,” the report highlighted.

According to the BNCM’s report, the Bahamian government could earn at least $5 Million USD annually from the legalization and regulation of cannabis, using a tax structure similar to alcohol and tobacco. While the potential preliminary revenue figure appears small, it could be easily multiplied if the legal cannabis industry was extended beyond the 400,000 Bahamian citizens to include tourists and other visitors. In 2019, The Bahamas welcomed more than seven million visitors according to The Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism. Furthermore, The Bahamas has the opportunity to become a front-runner in the global cannabis export industry. 

The BNCM report also recommended the creation of a range of business licenses for cultivation, processing, retail, research and development, and import and export, among others.

Stay tuned as we learn more.

In the News

U.S. Cannabis Prohibition Approaches its End

As cannabis prohibition approaches its end in the United States, have you ever wondered why it’s illegal in the first place? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Things might get a little hazy, but grab a snack and sit back, we have the FAQ’s! 

First, let’s go back a few years…

In the ancient world, hemp was a common agriculture crop, harvested for its protein-rich seeds, oil, and fiber that used for rope and clothing. In ancient China and elsewhere in the world, hemp was grown for food and had countless other uses, so it was only natural for people to discover that other types of the cannabis plant could be used medicinally. The spread of medicinal cannabis first started in China, then traveled throughout Asia into the Middle East and Africa. The first recorded use of cannabis as a medicine was by the mystical Emperor Shen Neng of China in 2,737 B.C. According to Chinese legend, the emperor prescribed cannabis tea to treat malaria, gout, rheumatism, and poor memory. In the years that followed, cannabis was used to alleviate pain and treat various conditions. But doctors also warned against using it too much, as they believed it could cause people to “see demons.”

Jump forward to 1619, when the first legislation on American soil involving cannabis was reportedly enacted in Jamestown, Virginia. The decree from King James I required all American colonists to grow Indian hemp for export to England. In 1862, Vanity Fair advertised marijuana-infused candy, dubbed “Hasheesh Candy.” The advert read: “A most wonderful Medicinal Agent for the cure of Nervousness. Weakness. Melancholy. Confusion of thoughts, etc. A pleasurable and harmless stimulant. Under its influence all classes seem to gather new inspiration and energy.” 

At the time, marijuana was literally growing everywhere in the U.S.–but unfortunately, this is where the good times ended. Up until that point, hemp was mostly used to make clothing and rope, though some druggists in the U.S. were versed in making some medicinal products using hemp and other cannabis varieties.

In the wake of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded the United States labor market. Heavy tensions quickly arose regarding the influx of immigrants. Those same immigrants also brought with them the simple ingestion method of smoking the plant. Due to cannabis being associated with the cheaper Mexican labor, racist and xenophobic campaigns against the immigrants led to lawmakers and the general public acquiring a negative view of cannabis. In turn, those same lawmakers began a nationwide cannabis prohibition. 

On August 2, 1937 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the ‘Marihuana Tax Act of 1937’, the first federal marijuana law, which prohibited the substance beginning in October of that year. It effectively banned the possession of cannabis by requiring users to obtain a tax stamp, which they couldn’t buy without providing details about the amount and location of their marijuana, thereby incriminating themselves in the process. 

Not-so-fun fact: The law was enacted just one year after the release of the notorious anti-cannabis propaganda film, Reefer Madness. The film was financed by a church group before being widely released as an exploitation film to warn the public about the dangers of cannabis use. It was just one in a long line of (ridiculous) education-exploitation films of the era, including Marihuana (1936), Assassin of Youth (1937), and Devil’s Harvest (1942). 

Regardless of the law, the 1960s and early 1970s were an iconic era for cannabis use, sparking a revolution: All across the country, young people were joining the cannabis movement. 

In 1970, President Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which federally outlawed marijuana. Under the act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule-1 controlled substance, and put on the same tier of drugs like heroin and cocaine. With the federal government’s stern stance on marijuana set, state governments were the only path to make any kind of change in cannabis policy. And thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. The fight for legalization began with decriminalization of cannabis for many states, starting with Oregon in 1973. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to completely legalize cannabis. 

In November 2019, there was a major turning point for the U.S. federal cannabis policy, when the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would effectively end marijuana prohibition. The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10, including two “aye” votes from Republican lawmakers, to advance the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (or H.R. 3884). The MORE Act was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). This is the first time in history that a congressional committee has approved a bill to make cannabis legal. In a nutshell, the MORE Act would federally decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, and would require the expungement of past federal cannabis convictions.

The bill would also establish a Cannabis Justice Office to administer a program to reinvest resources in the communities that have been most detrimentally impacted by prohibition, funded by a 5% tax on state-legal cannabis commerce.

Moreover, it will allow the Small Business Administration to provide loans and grants to cannabis-related businesses and support state and local equity licensing programs, and would permit doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to recommend medical cannabis to patients in accordance with applicable state laws.

The bottom line: The end is nigh for federal cannabis prohibition.

In the News

Marijuana Companies are Legally Exporting Cannabis to the U.S.

The legal cannabis industry has been showing great promise lately, with the first cannabis-based drug receiving approval by the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) in 2018, and with the massive amounts of investor cash that has been steadily flowing into legal marijuana operations. In fact, the legal cannabis industry in North America has taken significant leaps in recent years, with one of the largest developments being in Canada. On October 17th, 2018, Canada became the first major world economy to legalize recreational marijuana. For many, it was a pivotal moment, akin to the ending of Prohibition in the United States in the 1930s. 

So, where does the United States stand in all this? Currently, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and is therefore illegal under the federal government. But as time goes on, more states are voting to legalize marijuana in one form or another. And, in even bigger news–cannabis stocks are growing (no pun intended) in popularity on several major exchanges.

With marijuana legalization proceedings happening in both Canada and in the U.S., it was perhaps only a matter of time before another significant first would happen: Canadian companies are now legally shipping cannabis to the United States. 

So far, two companies have gotten approval from the U.S. government and the DEA to move their product across the border: Toronto-based cannabis giant Tilray (Stock: TLRY), and Canopy Growth (STOCK: CGC), based in Ontario. 

Tilray announced that it had received approval from the U.S. government and the DEA in September 2018 to import a cannabinoid product–which is designed to address essential tremor, which is a common neurological disorder that causes an individual’s body to shake–for a clinical trial in California. The Canadian company is reliant upon exports to foreign markets because of its focus on the medical marijuana arena. Exporting to the U.S. is crucial because the U.S. government has only one federally-approved facility to grow marijuana, meaning the flow of supplies for medical developers is excruciatingly slow.

Canopy Growth revealed in early October 2018 that the DEA approved its shipment of legal medical cannabis to a research partner in the United States. Canopy Growth’s president, Mark Zekulin, is reported to have said, “the United States presents a unique market opportunity and as the most established cannabis business in the world we, in turn, offer a unique ability to advantage standardization, IP development, and clinical research that can improve the understanding and legal application of cannabis and cannabinoids.”

Going forward, the big question remains whether these cases signify a sea of change, or if they’re simply one-off events. We remain optimistic, as a total of 33 states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana to some degree—mainly for medicinal purposes. 11 of those states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—made recreational use legal. And these numbers continue to rise.

The Bottom Line

Federal prohibitions are getting in the way of efforts to grow the U.S. marijuana business into a global industry, which has allowed Canadian cannabis growers to dominate the export market. Recently, two Canadian cannabis companies have received highly specialized approval to ship cannabis products into the U.S., and it’s important to recognize that these are limited scenarios, and that the situation is far from an open door for Canadian cannabis to flow southward. Still, given the fact that the U.S. federal government has remained staunchly opposed to legalizing marijuana in any form, it represents a significant shift in policy.