Letter to the Editor
by T’Sean Mott
2nd Vice Chairman
Progressive Young Liberals.
One of the Five Brave Men
I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing national dialogue on the legalization and economic impact of marijuana and its by-products.
The 12 August 2020 edition of the Nassau Guardian featured an article written by the president of the Torchbearers Youth Association (TYA) which outlines a plan to resuscitate our dying economy through the establishment of the cannabis industry.
Firstly, the Progressive Liberal Party and the Progressive Young Liberals support in principle the legalization of marijuana coupled with Bahamian ownership. We are awaiting our own final report on the issue with the hows and the when.
We share the same belief that the cannabis industry will produce more entrepreneurs and create more employment opportunities for Bahamians. We caution however that this is not a magic bullet. We also acknowledge that this industry must work symbiotically with our tourism product.
Unfortunately, the sad reality remains that industries do not grow over night. Steps toward adding new industries to the Bahamian economy are required and welcomed. However, we will be deceiving ourselves if we think the introduction of the cannabis industry will magically solve our immediate problems.
Industries take years to develop and given the economic crisis The Bahamas is in; we need a government who can chew gum and walk at the same time.
The Bahamas is in need of leadership that can multitask, leadership that can solve the immediate issues while planning for the future. That quality of leadership is sadly lacking in the FNM and in the Torchbearers.
We have to work with what we have now while we build to ensure we are not economically left for dead in the event another pandemic occurs.
As it stands now, 110,000 people are in need of food assistance, unemployment is expected to exceed 40 percent and our number one industry is at a standstill.
The time it will take to handle preliminaries such as drafting legislation, forming an umbrella organization as suggested by TYA’s president, educating Bahamians on how to grow and create products from cannabis and merchandising the final product is so significant that the Bahamian economy would be crippled to the core. In any event, when our Leader and his delegation toured the processing facilities for cannabis in Jamaica, it was clear that the capital costs of establishing the business were beyond the means of small business operators. The minimum capital requirement was five million dollars U.S.
This is not to say we shouldn’t make the initial steps in implementing the cannabis industry; however, these steps need to be made while we are mitigating current issues. Small and medium enterprises need Government assistance and the PLP will deliver that assistance.
Working with what we have now, we must do all we can for small and medium size businesses which account for over 70 percent of the employment in our country. Our aim should be to keep as many persons employed as possible.
The Prime Minister confirmed that 27,705 households are in need of food assistance which resulted in the government spending 1 million dollars per week on the food distribution program. Realistically speaking, the more businesses close, the higher the number of persons who will need assistance and naturally, the government will have to spend more money per week to assist those in need.
Not only should we do as much as we can for the small and medium size businesses, we should help to encourage and foster a spirit of entrepreneurship especially among our young people.
The government should relax the laws concerning vendor’s permits and business licences particularly as it relates to the young men and women selling coconut water curb side. This budding industry has provided an avenue for many young men and women to make an honest dollar and not be solely dependent on government assistance. In such dire economic times, the last thing we should be doing is discouraging any form of economic growth.
Additionally, the government must do more so the country can really open for business. There is no way of stemming this economic crisis without opening the borders, with strict and proper protocols in place and encouraging domestic and international tourism. After so many missteps from the government, resulting in The Bahamas being ranked last on the Global Covid-19 Index (GCI), the message of being a relatively safe place to travel will be more difficult to sell.
We must look at how we can incentivize tourists to make our tourism product more attractive on the global market. The Bahamas wouldn’t be the only country to take this route. Japan saw a 99.9 percent drop in visitors due to Covid-19. In response, officials developed a program that injected $12.5 billion into the Japanese economy. The program covers expenses while in Japan by giving tourists coupons and vouchers to use in local shops and restaurants. The Bahamas can consider incentives in the form of reducing taxes on ticket prices or on accommodations to make us look more attractive on the global market.
The Bahamas has reached a critical juncture in national development. Each step we make as a country now can have an astronomical impact on future generations. We must think boldly and innovatively. It would certainly be foolish not to learn anything from this pandemic and not expand our economy beyond tourism. This essentially requires the government to birth new industries and to ensure that Bahamians are the owners of these industries. The cannabis industry is definitely an untapped market with a high demand. It is common knowledge that it will create new economic opportunities for Bahamians and boost our economy. However, it will take years until we see the economic effects of cannabis.
Bahamians cannot wait years to start working again. The government cannot sustain years of mass food and monetary assistance at this level. Let us do what we can with what we have now to reopen our economy, while we take steps toward securing a better future for Bahamians. Quite frankly, trying to use a long term plan to solve a short term problem is ironically regressive!