Cannabis legislation is progressive, Sir
The notion expressed by Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of National Security, that the Cannabis Licensing Act that passed in the House of Assembly on February 19, 2021, was a result of devious planning by the Government to use as a pro-independence rallying call is arrant nonsense.
The Progressive Labour Party’s 2020 election platform clearly stated its intention to support reforming Bermuda’s criminal justice system with respect to cannabis laws, measures that it started in 2014 and reiterated in 2017.
Mr Dunkley’s perspective on the recreational use of cannabis by people 18 years and over is skewed, harmful and hypocritical. It appears that he is stuck in a Nixon-Reagan time warp that demonised the use of cannabis by including it with heroine and crack cocaine in “The War on Drugs”. It has been recognised globally that the war on drugs failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world, Bermuda included, when you think of all our young men caught up in the criminal justice system for the past 50 years over petty amounts of cannabis possession.
The One Bermuda Alliance does not have the pulse of the voter, particularly the young voters, and this is a prime example of an issue that is important to them. They failed to reform the cannabis laws under their watch and ignored the points raised by the Cannabis Reform Collective that “a pseudo decriminalisation policy will allow the black market to thrive where a person of any age can purchase cannabis for an absurd price, not knowing were it comes from or what it contains”.
Let us be real, though. This subject has been discussed in Bermuda for decades and it is ridiculous that cannabis smokers are still considered criminals in 2021.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are three million deaths every year from harmful use of alcohol, and in May 2020, it reported that tobacco kills more than eight million people yearly. The WHO reported no deaths attributed to cannabis; it did list harmful effects from chronic use and it also noted several studies that have demonstrated the therapeutic effects.
The hypocrisy of alcohol and tobacco being legal and socially acceptable compared with the prohibition of cannabis, which is less harmful, is astonishing and morally reprehensible.
The US Alcohol and Drug Foundation describes alcohol as a depressant drug, which means it slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. Go to addiction-recovery websites and you will see that alcohol is referred to time and again as a drug because when it is consumed it changes your physiological and psychological outlook — just like prescription depressants such as sedatives and sleeping pills.
The One Bermuda Alliance is exerting wasted energy on fighting the legalisation of cannabis and would be better off focusing on the dangers of prescription drugs. According to data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, of which 30,000 were directly attributed to synthetic opioids.
Forty countries worldwide have decriminalised cannabis and in America 33 states allow medical cannabis, and ten states have legalised it for adult recreational use.
It is time for Bermuda to come out of the dark ages on this subject matter and we should not continue to make cannabis illegal for adults just because we are afraid our teenagers will use it. It is a fact that the first gateway drug that most youngsters use is alcohol. Youngsters under 18 years of age should not drink, smoke tobacco or use cannabis. It is up to us as parents and as a society to protect them and to monitor them.
In 2014, the OBA was in power and Mr Dunkley called the PLP’s attempt at reforming cannabis laws “reckless and not thought through” back then. It is now 2021 and the PLP has thought it through and Mr Dunkley is still hyperventilating. Perhaps if he smoked a spliff he might be more relaxed.
The Government has had discussions with religious communities, educators, health providers and stakeholders in our community dedicated to providing services as they relate to addiction and family counselling. It would be far from the truth to suggest that the PLP is liberal, and it has probably taken a lot of soul searching and compromise for it to have passed this progressive legislation.
Hopefully, the Senate will do the same and give the legislation a stamp of approval.
• Cheryl Pooley is a social commentator and three-times former parliamentary candidate