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Marijuana debate should be community-wide

The young are the restless. It is a line for which I cannot take credit. It was a headline that appeared recently in The New York Times. It caught my eye as did the subject matter: how views are changing on the decriminalisation and use of marijuana. A writer by the name of Charles M Blow (yes, real name) was commenting on an April 2013 poll that for the first time showed that more Americans support legalising marijuana than oppose it.

This was and is no April fool’s joke.

Similar, strong opinion on the issue is surfacing in Canada. Reputable pollsters up North are reporting that 66 percent of Canadians polled last year supported decriminalisation while 57 percent polled supported full legalisation. As in the United States, these are significant and striking changes in attitude from years past. Past polls showed that a majority of people were dead set against any relaxation of the law.

The acceptance of change, if not the push, is apparently coming from those who comprise the generation known as millenials: those born in 1981 or later. They starting to form a strong majority with those who have always held more liberal views on drugs from among the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980).

Like you, Mr Acting Editor, I wonder: does the same hold true for Bermuda?

Certainly the issue is back in the news here. The top legal officer in the land, the Attorney General, albeit a political appointment, has declared that the issue ought to be debated in the Legislature — and presumably he intends to make good on his promise. Meanwhile, a former Commissioner of Police has also since been drawn on the debate and has said that he favours decriminalisation.

I put aside for now the question of whether or not this is good politics. You might wonder about the wisdom of any such move in light of what the new Government is facing in terms of the state of our economy and Government finances, ie that massive, almost crippling public debt. I admit to my first reaction: a modern Marie Antoinette version of ‘let them smoke dope’ is but a poor substitute for what’s really required to help turn this Island around.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the widespread use of marijuana in Bermuda and the effect that it has on all of our lives — in homes, in the workplace, in schools, on the roads and on law and order, ie crime. It has also been suggested the drug trade itself is currently a critical and important cash pillar of the local economy. I don’t doubt it.

But ducking the difficult is something we do well. We already do it with alcohol. If you don’t believe me, just listen more closely to what Dr Joseph Froncioni has been saying, repeatedly, about the carnage it causes on our roads.

The last time this issue of decriminalisation came up on the Hill was in presentations before the joint committee on crime and gang violence set up some three years ago. I was a member. There were representations, but we declined to deal with them. I was one of those who urged us to take the position that drug use, how it should be viewed and how the issue should or should not be addressed, was not part of our remit. The Committee lacked the necessary expertise.

I have not changed my mind on that, but I have made up my mind on the need to more carefully examine the pros and cons of the issue. Attitudes are changing — and we need to prepare now for what our approach will be to the use of marijuana, and all addictive drugs frankly, as an issue of public health rather than one that is simply criminal.

Re-assessment has already begun elsewhere and not just within the United States and Canada.

I am not so sure debate in the House of Assembly will provide us what we need; rather what we do need is a credible, visible vehicle for public consultation and representation so that everyone in our community can see, hear and participate, including, and most particularly, those who have experience and are expert in the field.

Have a view? Write jbarritt@ibl.bm.

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Published April 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 11, 2013 at 8:52 pm)

Marijuana debate should be community-wide

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