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Call for overhaul of drug policy

Bermuda's cannabis policy is in urgent need of an overhaul, according to Stratton Hatfield, a leading member of the group charged with investigating the drug more than three years ago.

Many of the sweeping changes proposed by the Cannabis Reform Collaborative remain on the shelf two years after they were presented to the Bermuda Government.

Meanwhile, the latest school survey shows that more than half, or 54 per cent, of students in their last year of senior school have used marijuana at some point. Nearly a third (29 per cent) of S4 students reported that they used marijuana, with 10 per cent saying they had taken the drug in the past 30 days

The average age at which schoolchildren first try the drug is 13.6 years, according to the 2015 survey, which covers both public and private schools.

“It shows the need for more education and prevention, which was a big part of our report,” Mr Hatfield told The Royal Gazette. “Where are these young people getting cannabis from at such an age? From an uncontrolled and unregulated market.

“The younger you are, the bigger the impact it has on the development of the brain. I just wonder how we can lobby the Government to act on this.”

Michael Dunkley appointed the CRC in December 2013, shortly after signalling in Parliament that the island needed to examine decriminalising cannabis and exploring its medical use.

Yesterday, the Premier pointed to legislation passed last year that allowed for the use of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals, which he said was considered “an important step in the Government's phased approach towards reforming Bermuda's cannabis laws”.

Mr Dunkley added: “It should be noted that the legislation contains significant safeguards in the form of required consultation and ultimately advice from the chief medical officer before any other substances or products can be added to the list of compounds available for medical use by prescription.

“That said, to date I can confirm that approximately six applications for CBD-containing oils have been made and all have been approved for importation for purpose of personal medical use.”

CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the main components of cannabis.

Mr Dunkley added: “As a final note, I have said previously, that where the potential for relief exists in the use of cannabis for medical purposes, the Government's responsibility is to sensitively and prudently regulate that use in the best interests of healthcare generally and public safety in particular.”

Mr Hatfield said that by speaking out, he was “just trying to apply pressure on the Government, and remind people that a report was commissioned and presented with valuable recommendations that have not been implemented”.

Among its proposals, the report called for medical cannabis to be made immediately available, as well as decriminalising possession of the drug for personal use, with a long-term plan for its eventual legalisation.

Asked which proposal he would most like to see acted upon, Mr Hatfield said: “Developing the policy of a caution for simple possession. It's an important step towards what we recommended.”

Since 2010, the Director of Public Prosecutions has had a caution policy in place for the possession of small quantities of the drug, and amendments approved last month permitted the DPP to issue new guidelines to police for the alternative to bringing people before the courts. Mr Hatfield said it would be “interesting to see what progress has been made”, citing the disproportionate impact of the existing policy on young black men.

The island's status quo on cannabis “has to change — we are missing an opportunity to lead on this global topic”, he added.

The National School Survey, the fourth of its kind, polled middle and senior school students on alcohol, tobacco, drugs and health during October 2015: roughly 3,500 students across 25 public, private and home schools.

Its findings on cannabis showed that of the students that used the drug, more than half reported doing so either at home or at a friend's house.

The vast majority of users (71 per cent) said they acquired cannabis from friends. Among other details, the survey found that:

• 40 per cent of students surveyed described marijuana as “easy” to obtain, compared with 21 per cent who described it as “difficult” to obtain

• 19 per cent of students said they had been offered marijuana in the past 30 days

• Marijuana is perceived as less unhealthy than alcohol: 71 per cent of students said they believed smoking marijuana was harmful to health, compared with 89 per cent who said getting drunk was harmful to health

• 4.7 per cent of students said their parents would not be upset if they discovered that they were using marijuana.

Stratton Hatfield

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Published April 25, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated April 25, 2016 at 1:25 am)

Call for overhaul of drug policy

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