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

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.