Economic argument for medical marijuana a strong one, says Simmons
Medical cannabis could provide the Island with a much-needed revenue stream outside of tourism and international business, according to economist Craig Simmons.
Mr Simmons said he was pleased to see the subject being tackled by the Cannabis Reform Collaborative — initiated at the request of Michael Dunkley, the Minister of Public Safety — but questioned whether Bermuda is pragmatic enough to follow through.
“I’m glad to see that the CRC is in fact looking at [cannabis reform]” said Mr Simmons. “The government has set up, at arm’s length, an organisation that’s going to look at it, so that’s a very good thing. But then there’s the question: do we have the nerve to actually pursue this?
“The medical [cannabis] market, which to a large degree is untapped, is arguably far bigger than the recreational market.
“Let’s think about it. Who are the users of recreational marijuana? They tend to be people over 18 and under 50. Medical marijuana you can sell to children, you can sell it to seniors, you can sell it to everyone in-between, because by definition medical marijuana is about [its properties], which have some mystical health benefits, not the THC content.”
In short, cannabis and its properties ‘tetrahydrocannabinol’ (THC) and ‘cannabidiol’ (CBD) can be used in the treatment of disease, or to alleviate symptoms. While medical cannabis reform is well under way in the United States — twenty four states now have some kind of medical cannabis policy — a consensus on the drug’s effectiveness over conventional medicine has been hard to come by, largely due to limited research and data.
What is no longer open for interpretation is the economic benefit cannabis reform can offer. Tax revenue from medical marijuana sales reeled in almost $6 million for the state of Colorado in 2012, while retailers themselves walked away with almost $220m.
Those in favour of prohibition argue deregulation increases use — op-ed columns in newspapers around America, including the New York Times, have argued that with decreased regulation comes decreased price, which in turn increases consumption — a view Mr Simmons was quick to rubbish.
“In Portugal, all drugs have been decriminalised and treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue. The report I looked at, in respect to Portugal, indicates that, at least among young people, cannabis use in particular has declined after decriminalisation. So there might have been an initial spike, but ten years down the road it’s sort of levelled off. It’s no longer a big thing.
“You can go to major events in Portugal and not smell cannabis, that’s not something you can do in Bermuda. I think the novelty wears off. And the approach — moving away from treating it as a criminal issue, the cost associated with decreased prosecutions, decreased social costs associated, with the police being involved, the decreased social cost of ruining young people’s lives — that’s something that hasn’t been actually calculated.
“I think if you were to take that into consideration, it shouldn’t take us long to figure out that we should really now begin to treat this as a health issue, and attack it as a health issue, and maybe tax it from the perspective of a health issue.”
As for whether Bermuda is ready to begin the reform process, Mr Simmons conceded he did not know enough about the inner-workings of reform policy to make a judgement, but said the opportunity is certainly there.
“I have no idea if it can be done. I haven’t looked that closely at it. I know enough to know there is that particular market, and it is big, and it’s highly unregulated.”
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