Move to tackle drug culture as well as laws

  • MPs passed legislation on Friday which will decriminalise less than 7g of cannabis (File photograph)

    MPs passed legislation on Friday which will decriminalise less than 7g of cannabis (File photograph)

  • Stratton Hatfield, of the Cannabis Reform Collaborative (Photograph supplied)

    Stratton Hatfield, of the Cannabis Reform Collaborative (Photograph supplied)

  • Lynne Winfield, president of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (File photograph)

    Lynne Winfield, president of Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (File photograph)

Decriminalisation of cannabis must be followed up with further laws and programmes to change Bermuda’s drug culture, according to an anti-racism charity.

Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda welcomed the passing of legislation by MPs last weekend, which it said would help to lower conviction rates among young people.

But president Lynne Winfield said legalising cannabis and providing services including detox and therapeutic communities would make a more meaningful impact.

Ms Winfield said: “Decriminalisation is an important first step and goes some way to ensure that the criminalisation of our youth is reduced.

“However, a more holistic approach including legalisation will transform lives and society.

“It is only a combination of changes to the law combined with services such as detox, therapeutic communities, destigmatisation, employment opportunities and education that will transform the drug culture in Bermuda and how the criminal justice system and health system respond.” According to the United States’ National Institute on Drug Abuse, medical detoxification — the first step of addiction treatment — safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use. Therapeutic communities are a common form of long-term residential treatment for substance use disorders.

Curb, which advocated for legalising the drug in its 2017 Racial Justice Platform and in its submission to the Cannabis Reform Collaborative in 2014, chimed in after the Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 was passed in the House of Assembly in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Ms Winfield highlighted Portugal as a country that combined legalisation with other measures.

She said: “Portugal’s ongoing 17-plus year success with their programme of legalisation combined with treatment continues to provide statistics that prove that a focus on drug treatment programmes and funds for job programmes produce positive results for the community and individual.

“If the idea when talking about addiction is to understand that it is a chronic disease, a health issue, then to move it out of Bermuda’s prison system is a clear improvement and from a mental health perspective allows society to drop the stigma.”

Activist Stratton Hatfield, of the Cannabis Reform Collaborative, also applauded the move as a “good step in the right direction”, but said it was long overdue.

He added: “It’s my hope that less people are going to be dragged through our justice system for possession of a small amount of cannabis.

“In particular, it’s my hope that young black males will not be dragged through the court system for simple possession.”

Mr Hatfield said many countries had recognised that the “war on drugs” had failed and that substance use and abuse required a health-centred approach.

He added: “People that use substances should be seen as patients that should be treated and cured as opposed to criminals that should be convicted and prosecuted.”

And although Mr Hatfield added that the move was necessary, he said the Bill fell short “on establishing the necessity for a long-term plan towards a regulated and controlled market”.

Mr Hatfield said the CRC’s report An Analysis of Cannabis Reform in Bermuda in 2014 “outlined the need for us to create something that was culturally appropriate for Bermuda”, with a focus on drug prevention and moving towards a regulated and controlled market.

Mr Hatfield added that such a market would have quality control, price control and distribution control and it would also be able to limit minors from using cannabis.

He said: “You also have a way to generate revenue and to ultimately lead by example.”

Mr Hatfield said the decriminalisation model did not address some of his key points, specifically quality control, distribution and cultivation.

He also highlighted the need for more public education.

“So many people are very confused not only about the medicinal qualities of the plant, but more so what would be considered appropriate for use — we discouraged public use, as an example.

“And, if anything, we suggested that in a decriminalisation model, you could possess up to a certain amount but you could also cultivate on your private property as long as you had a permit.”

The legislation, tabled by social development and sports minister Zane DeSilva, was designed to decriminalise possession of less than 7 grams of cannabis.

But police will still be able to seize any amount of cannabis and the minister will draw up regulations for substance abuse education or treatment for those caught with the drug.

The Director of Public Prosecutions can also still proceed with charges if there is evidence the drugs were intended for supply.

The Bill must be backed by the Senate and approved by the Governor before it becomes law.

A similar Bill was debated and approved by the House of Assembly in May, but the legislation never reached the Senate because of the General Election.

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Published Dec 13, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 13, 2017 at 5:46 am)

Move to tackle drug culture as well as laws

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