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Government should hasten end to cannabis prohibition

The sniff test: Kyle Bell, of Numo Cannabis, helps a customer decide on his purchase of legal marijuana in Edmonton, Alberta. Canada became the largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace as sales began two weeks ago (Photograph by Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/AP)

Dear Sir,

The Premier and his government are contemplating legislation that will make it easier for patients to obtain cannabis for medical purposes, which is a laudable goal.

The Shadow Minister of National Security, Social Development and Sport has raised concerns that our international banks may be reluctant to process transactions that are derived from the sale of medical cannabis. Both political parties have one thing in common: they have both been slow to support the responsible use of cannabis.

Bermuda continues to lag behind progressive jurisdictions such as Canada and many states in America — California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington — plus the District of Columbia, where personal use is now permitted.

Let’s join these jurisdictions and give Bermudians and visitors the personal freedom to decide whether or not to use cannabis, rather than leaving them in limbo as to whether personal use is going to land them in trouble or, in the case of Bermudians, ban them from travelling to the United States.

Sure, there may be some challenges that Bermuda need to address, but we should move in the direction of controlled legalisation. To date, both the Progressive Labour Party and the One Bermuda Alliance have failed to, or have intentionally decided not to, address the discriminatory history of cannabis prosecutions where far more blacks than whites have been prosecuted for simple possession and have had to live with the stigma and consequences of a criminal conviction.

The US Federal Government may be slow to amend its travel-ban records, but this should not stop the Bermuda Government from decriminalising and expunging the records of Bermudians. The Government has introduced a policy of warnings, but that policy, while a baby step in the right direction, continues to promote anxiety, uncertainty and misunderstandings — and it does nothing to reverse decades of criminal convictions.

The Government ought to have the courage to join the States and countries that have legalised cannabis for personal use, including allowing Bermudians and residents to grow a specified number of plants, consistent with personal use.

It should consider sensible regulations, just as it has in relation to the sale of alcohol, with particular attention paid to a controlled system of distribution that results in a new source of much needed tax revenue. Like our friends to the west, we don’t have to wait for a distribution system or bank co-operation to end cannabis prohibition, and all the harm that prohibition has caused, not to mention the waste of public resources. This is an area where the Government can and should be progressive.