Legalising cannabis not to affect US travel

  • No change: US Consul-General Constance Dierman (File photograph)

    No change: US Consul-General Constance Dierman (File photograph)

The legalisation of cannabis in Bermuda will not threaten its privileged United States Customs pre-clearance system at the airport, the US Consul-General has promised.

But Constance Dierman warned that travel restrictions to the US for people with cannabis convictions would remain in force, even if the island followed through on a pledge to strike down previous convictions for the drug.

Ms Dierman said on Monday that the US and Bermuda enjoyed “a long history of working together to ensure the security of our countries, while facilitating legitimate and vital cross-border trade and travel”.

She added: “Changes to Bermudian laws relative to cannabis will not affect pre-clearance services at LF Wade International Airport.”

Ms Dierman said that US Customs and Border Protection officers were “trained to enforce US laws and regulations fairly and uniformly, as they strive to make the United States a welcoming nation for trade and travel”.

But she added that Bermuda’s liberal turn on cannabis, including a plan to clear convictions for cannabis possession, would have no impact on the US restricted list — the “stop list”.

Plans for the legalisation of cannabis were brought to the Senate last December by Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs.

Ms Simmons said the Government would explore “policy options which can best achieve the legal expungement of past criminal records for convictions of simple possession of cannabis”.

She unveiled draft legislation for the decriminalisation of the drug earlier this month to “the greatest extent possible, via a regulated framework”.

The proposal, up for public consultation until July 3, is modelled on Canadian provincial and federal law and parts of the Caribbean.

The Royal Gazette asked Ms Dierman about potential problems last week after concerns appeared in online discussions that the move might jeopardise pre-clearance at the airport.

Many US states have legalised cannabis, but the drug is still illegal under federal law.

The United Nations International Drug Control Conventions do not outline state obligations on entry restriction for citizens of countries with different drug laws — which left such action to the Federal Government of the US.

Bermuda’s airport pre-clearance through US Customs and Border Protection is one of only 16 of its type in six countries and gives the island a significant travel advantage with its closest neighbour.

But US laws, aimed to keep criminals out of the country, apply to convictions that involve even small quantities of drugs.

That includes cannabis, still classified under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 as a Schedule I drug.

The restriction, which requires a visa waiver to enter the US for those convicted, can also be imposed for theft, fraud, violations of American immigration law or crimes such as arson or assault.

Ms Dierman said: “US immigration law does not recognise the expungement of a sentence as being effective for eliminating a conviction.”

She added: “A visa applicant whose conviction has been expunged or pardoned will still require a waiver of a criminal ineligibility in order to receive a visa to travel to the US.”

The Government did not respond to a request for comment, but a source familiar with the situation said there had been “no indication” that the US Federal Government had looked at withdrawal of pre-clearance from the island.

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Published Jun 24, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 24, 2020 at 6:29 am)

Legalising cannabis not to affect US travel

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