The influential Bahamas Christian Council has thrown its weight behind efforts to legalize cannabis for medical purposes.

The country is currently conducting an official study into whether marijuana should be legalized, and the council released its position paper on the subject this week. It said it has no objection to medicinal use as long as it properly regulated and grounded in science.

However, BCC argued that cannabis should not be legalized for recreational or sacramental purposes due to the psychoactive impact of marijuana use.

“We do not believe marijuana use should be condoned or encouraged, as it is a mind altering, potentially debilitating drug to some at varying degrees, capable of several negative side effects such as marijuana induced psychosis, cognitive impairment, negative impact on the brain of users under the age of 21, and reduced productivity,” the council said in a statement issued to the press.

Rastafarians have spearheaded efforts to legalize cannabis for recreational and sacramental purposes in the Bahamas. BCC said it could not support their stance, but it did urge the government to decriminalize cannabis use.

It said it does not favour criminal records for anyone convicted of marijuana possession, but it advocated non-criminal civil citations as “a deterrent to expanded use”.

The council also contended that the Bahamas would not receive an economic boost from legalization, and warned such a decision would enact a high social cost. BCC claimed that it conducted “extensive research” before adopting its stance, and it referenced experiences of Colorado and California.

The Bahamas National Commission was split on whether recreational cannabis use should be legalized. It decided to put the matter to the public in a poll that should be completed by mid-April.

The commission has provisionally filed 24 recommendations, which include legalizing medical cannabis and permitting marijuana tourism. It would also allow medical centres to import medical marijuana to treat certain conditions, while the recommendations also include decriminalization and the expungement of previous convictions for possession.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said he is committed to reforming marijuana laws and he is keen on decriminalization. However, the government has not yet made up its mind about adult-use legalization, so the poll could prove decisive.

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