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Call for freer licence to grow cannabis

Many black people will be frozen out of legal cannabis use because they will be unable to afford an annual $750 licence fee for personal cultivation, campaigners warned yesterday.

Social Justice Bermuda said the fee could keep the illegal cannabis market alive by encouraging people to grow cannabis without permission.

The group appealed to the Government to review its proposed Cannabis (Licensing and Regulation) Act 2020, which was designed to modernise legislation on the drug.

A spokeswoman for Social Justice Bermuda welcomed the move to allow the public to grow cannabis.

But she added: “It was disappointing to see the prohibitive pricing of the personal cultivation licence.

“This fee excludes many of our country’s lower-income earners from participating in the legal growing scheme and restricts their options for accessing what, in many cases, is their medicine and in all cases a more economical option for health.

“Seven hundred and fifty dollars per year is prohibitive for many people especially black Bermudians that are within a lower socioeconomic status.

“While this may be unintentional, the effect is a racialised policy that disproportionately affects black citizens.”

She added: “We feel that this high annual fee for a personal cultivation licence will encourage people to grow cannabis illegally and the illicit market will continue.”

The draft legislation was tabled by Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons in May, but later revised to allow residents to get a personal cultivation licence for $750 a year, which would allow them to grow four to seven plants from seedlings from an approved source.

The spokeswoman also criticised an amendment to prevent people from cannabis cultivation if children lived in their home.

She said: “Parents or guardians that wish to cultivate cannabis for medicinal or personal use should be permitted to apply for a licence.

“Children’s safety is paramount, and the legislation and policy should protect that, but the current proposed restriction effectively excludes the vast majority of residents, given our culture of multigenerational cohabitation.

“If the cultivation area is adequately secured — similar to any other substance not intended for consumption or use by children — equal opportunity for cultivation should be considered.”

The legislation was designed to create a liberal stance on cannabis consumption and sales, in line with Canada and parts of the United States, where the drug is legal for recreational and medical use.

But Social Justice Bermuda said: “It is crucial that Bermuda introduces a safe and accessible cannabis market for all, especially those most impacted by cannabis prohibition.”

The spokeswoman said steps also need to be taken to destigmatise cannabis.

She added: “We feel that the Government should take some initiative to re-educate the public about the benefits and associated risks of consuming cannabis.

“Any policy should play an active role in dispelling the harmful myths around cannabis use and educate people about responsible use of the plant.”

The group also called for strict supervision of cannabis agriculture, as well as quality control and labelling, by the Cannabis Advisory Authority to ensure “informed and responsible consumption”.

Social Justice Bermuda, which includes long-serving community activists such as Kristin White and Katura Horton-Perinchief, was launched this year to tackle social problems.

It listed several observations and recommendations on cannabis policy yesterday.

These included:

• Random drug testing in the workplace is discriminatory and marginalises people who choose to consume cannabis

• Restricting cannabis use at any place of worship as a religious sacrament is discriminatory and unconstitutional

• Prisoners on non-violent cannabis-related charges should be released following the approval of the Expungement of Convictions Act this month

• Revenue from cannabis taxation must be reinvested into the communities most impacted by the “draconian prohibition of cannabis” by providing business and employment opportunities and funding equity programmes

The group added that half of cannabis sales revenues should be invested in community centres, public playgrounds, outdoor recreational spaces, sport centres and the education system.

It added that 10 per cent should be invested in prevention, work with young people and education programmes supported by the Department of National Drug Control and other non-profit organisations.

To view the Social Justice Bermuda statement in full, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”