Drug testing of MPs moves closer
A “trailblazing” drug-testing policy for MPs is in the works — along with a “sensible, mature public discussion” on the decriminalisation of cannabis in Bermuda.
Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley raised the proposal near the close of a 15-hour session of Friday's House of Assembly.
His motion, which won unanimous support, called for a Joint Select Committee comprising members of both Parliament and the Senate to devise a policy for mandatory, random drug testing policy of all members of the Legislature.
Also noting the public debate on cannabis use, the Deputy Premier said he was “prepared to begin a meaningful discussion on the decriminalisation of marijuana in Bermuda”.
Medical applications of the drug ought to be discussed as well, he added.
“I do not support the legalisation of this drug, as I am not convinced that such a course is fit and proper for this country,” Mr Dunkley told the House.
“I do take notice of the effect that a conviction for the youthful indiscretion of marijuana possession can have on our citizens.
“With that in mind, a wider discussion on decriminalisation must take place.”
Any decision on cannabis would be “research-driven and made in the best interests of the Island”.
The motion came before MPs at 4am.
The late hour prompted Mr Dunkley to point out that a similar 2000 motion by then Opposition Leader Dame Pamela Gordon had been amended by then Premier Dame Jennifer Smith to include the appointment of a committee — but after a 2.33am amendment, that initiative fell by the wayside.
“As is often the case with things said and done at that hour, it does not appear that any committee was struck, and no progress was made,” Mr Dunkley said — telling MPs this would “not be the case this time”.
Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown questioned the spirit behind Mr Dunkley's motion, telling the House that such policies were already in place for sensitive jobs where working under the influence of any drug put lives at stake.
“When it comes to other areas where the issue of safety isn't involved, then you have to question what is the purpose of having a drug testing policy in place?”
He asked if the idea was to “name and shame” those who fell afoul of testing, or require them to get treatment.
Mr Brown continued: “Or is it designed for some other purpose?”
With cannabis the illegal drug of choice in Bermuda, Mr Brown called for clarity, saying the “vast majority of people do so on a casual basis”.
Attorney General Mark Pettingill rose next, terming himself “a liberal guy” and telling MPs that legalising cannabis was “not that easy to do”.
“Until we choose to come here and change those laws, then we had better not think we can hold ourselves above them,” Mr Pettingill said.
On the matter of testing people in potentially dangerous lines of work, the Attorney General responded: “We're operating some pretty heavy machinery up here.”
Nor was naming and shaming “what this is about, or should be about”, Mr Pettingill said, adding that someone who'd failed a test after visiting a jurisdiction where a drug was permitted would be within their right to raise such circumstances before a Joint Select Committee.
Mr Dunkley introduced the motion as a sign the Island had “zero tolerance for drug use in positions of trust and authority” — and said that testing was a natural progression of good governance measures.
The policy had been promised in Government's first Throne Speech, he said, and research by his Ministry through the National Drug Control Department would go before the Committee.
In July, the House also heard from Mr Dunkley that a policy, approved by Cabinet and Government's parliamentary caucus, would “shortly” be posted on the OBA website.
But that decision was deferred after the offices of Speaker of the House Randolph Horton advised “bipartisan application and management”, he said.
Asked by The Royal Gazette about Mr Brown's concerns over a possible agenda for the testing, he said the proposal's motives were “clearly laid out” — and the fact that a Joint Select Committee would implement and monitor the policy would “allay all of MP Brown's concerns”.
He said he planned to discuss establishing the Joint Select Committee today with the Speaker of the House, adding: “I assume it will not take long for members to be appointed.”
Mr Dunkley continued: “I will discuss the matter of decriminalisation and medical uses of marijuana with my Cabinet colleagues, and then a way forward will be announced.”