Government officials in the Bahamas last week introduced a number of measures that would dramatically change the country’s marijuana laws, including one proposal that would legalize cannabis for religious and medical purposes.
More from the Associated Press on the proposals:
“If approved, those caught with less than 30 grams (one ounce) of marijuana would pay a $250 fine and the incident would not appear on their criminal record. Buying marijuana for recreational purposes would remain illegal. Officials said licenses for cultivation, retail, transport and religious use would only be granted to companies that are entirely Bahamian owned. Licenses for research, testing and manufacturing would be awarded to companies that are at least 30% Bahamian owned.”
According to the online resource Cannigma, laws in the Bahamas ban “recreational use, and those who are caught doing so face the possibility of severe monetary fines and lengthy imprisonment.”
The website explains that the country “enacted laws against marijuana usage with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act in 1929,” and that in the early 1960s, the Bahamas “expanded their definition of illegal marijuana usage to include hemp products and substances containing CBD.
“Bahamas marijuana laws remained much unchanged until January 2018 when the Caribbean Community Regional Commission held a town hall meeting on the possibility of decriminalizing cannabis. A governmental committee was established to consult with Bahamas’ citizens on their views regarding the country’s future marijuana laws and policies,” Cannigma explained. “In May 2021, following the publication of the committee’s findings, a preliminary bill of updated Bahamas marijuana laws was leaked to the press. The latest bill calls for the legalization of medical marijuana. Similar to Thailand, the current Bahamas government is looking to spur the local economy by allowing local farmers to cultivate the crop and sell it to local medical institutions and cannabis dispensaries.”
The move for reform by the Bahamas comes more than two months after another Carribean government, the country of Antigua and Barbuda, became the first country in the region to permit Rastafari to cultivate and consume marijuana.
“We’re more free now,” said Ras Tashi, a member of the Ras Freeman Foundation for the Unification of Rastafari.
Marijuana –– or “ganja,” as it is called in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean –– plays a sacred role in Rastafarian culture.
“The Rastafari faith is rooted in 1930s Jamaica, growing as a response by Black people to white colonial oppression. The beliefs are a melding of Old Testament teachings and a desire to return to Africa. Rastafari followers believe the use of marijuana is directed in biblical passages and that the ‘holy herb’ induces a meditative state. The faithful smoke it as a sacrament in chalice pipes or cigarettes called ‘spliffs,’ add it to vegetarian stews and place it in fires as a burnt offering.”
Rastafari had lobbied for marijuana legalization for years, with many of their adherents jailed and punished by law enforcement as a result of the practice.
“We believe that we have to provide a space for everyone at the table, irrespective of their religion,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said. “Just as we’ve recognized other faiths, it’s absolutely important for us to also ensure that the Rastafari faith is also acknowledged … to acknowledge their constitutional right to worship and to utilize cannabis as a sacrament.”
Other countries in the Caribbean have also taken steps toward marijuana reform.
Marijuana has been decriminalized in Jamaica, where earlier this year government officials discussed providing more support for the country’s small-scale cannabis farmers.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Virgin Islands “authorized the recreational and sacramental use of marijuana for anyone 21 and older, joining several nations across the socially conservative Caribbean that have relaxed their cannabis laws,” the Associated Press reported in January.
“We are bringing the opportunities to you, but you must also do your part to seize these opportunities,” Albert Bryan Jr., the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands said after signing the bill into law at the time.
“It is my goal to make sure many of us who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis are afforded every opportunity to participate in this new and legal cannabis industry,” Bryan added.
The new law allows “those 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, a half ounce of concentrate and 1 ounce of products such as edibles for recreational, sacramental and other uses,” according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. Virgin Islands had already legalized medical marijuana in 2019.