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Concerns over cannabis smoking culture

Disturbed by trend: Senior magistrate Juan Wolffe

A growing number of teenaged boys and young men appearing in court have a history of smoking marijuana, according to senior magistrate Juan Wolffe.

Mr Wolffe said that he and his magistrate colleagues could “draw the inference that there is a strong nexus” between offending behaviour and marijuana over the past few years.

“This is just what I have seen in court and heard through discussions with other magistrates in both criminal and family courts — it’s not based on empirical evidence,” he added.

“It seems offenders that come before us have a history of smoking marijuana, and some of them have been smoking since they were as young as nine.”

In a frank interview with The Royal Gazette, the senior magistrate shared his observations of the drug’s impact on society, noting that he had been “disturbed” by the trend of use among young men.

“What makes it worse is that they have no recognition of the link between their drug use and their behaviour,” he said.

“They simply don’t see it as being the root cause of the problem.

“We find that marijuana smoking often continues throughout a probation order and there is a reluctance to attend drug counselling.

“Many individuals just don’t feel they have an issue with drugs.

“Through community-based sentences the courts try to help individuals get off drugs and provide an incentive; for example if they go through counselling then maybe it could lead to a conditional discharge and therefore not affect their record.

“Unfortunately, that does not seem to work. There is non-compliance and orders are breached. There are people who would rather go to prison than stop smoking marijuana. That is very difficult to manage.”

The debate over the legalisation of marijuana has attracted strong views on both sides of the fence in Bermuda recently.

Mr Wolffe maintained that he was not advocating for or against decriminalisation of the drug, but he said that he believed that the usage of marijuana among teenagers was “generational”.

And he revealed that the consequences of marijuana smoking had begun to manifest themselves during family court proceedings.

He said: “We understand why in many cases there is a reluctance — much of the use of marijuana among young people is generational.

“They have seen marijuana smoking in their house and in their neighbourhoods, so when you say to them there is a problem with smoking it, they don’t see it as a problem.

“We can debate all day about the legalisation of marijuana, that is for another time and place. I am not advocating either way, I am just saying what we see on a daily basis.

“From what I have seen in the court rooms, I would say there is cogent evidence to suggest that marijuana smoking has affected young men’s feelings, their education, their social skills, how they interact with other people, their jobs, their sports, their relationships as well as their dreams and aspirations.

“Every single individual in drug court started their journey of drug addiction by smoking marijuana. And often with the marijuana comes alcohol.”

Mr Wolffe added: “In many cases in family court where there is dysfunction there is also an element of marijuana smoking and, disturbingly, in some of the cases, the smoking takes place in full view of children.

“So when we are talking about repairing the dysfunctional family, often the court orders some level of counselling for the parents.

“Even in family court we have had to find ways to help parents whose marijuana use was affecting their ability to parent.”

Sport, Page 27