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OBA in decriminalisation talks with police

The Bermuda Government is in talks with police and prosecutors over plans to decriminalise cannabis.

Attorney-General Trevor Moniz gave the update on the One Bermuda Alliance's Throne Speech pledge this afternoon, shortly after the Progressive Labour Party revealed it would table a Decriminalisation of Cannabis Bill.

At a press conference ahead of Friday's reconvening of Parliament, Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott announced the PLP's proposed legislation would drop penalties against those found with a small amounts of the drug.

Reacting in a press release, Mr Moniz said: “I am pleased to hear that the Progressive Labour Party is on board with the Government's plan to decriminalise possession of small amounts of cannabis.

“The Government committed to doing so in last November's Throne Speech and has initiated consultations with the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Bermuda Police Service to develop appropriate legislation.

“The aim of the legislation is to eliminate unjust consequences that have occurred under the current system, most particularly the unnecessary criminalisation of young Bermudians.

“Our commitment to decriminalise possession of small amounts of cannabis is one step in the Government's efforts to reform Bermuda's cannabis laws as they relate to the criminal justice system and public health.”

Earlier this afternoon, Mr Scott, flanked by PLP MP Diallo Rabain and shadow health minister Kim Wilson, said the PLP's bill would decriminalise possession of 7g and under of the drug and provide education and treatment opportunities for those who are caught in possession of such amounts.

He also drew attention to the “epidemic and unjust outcomes for hundreds of black citizens — young black men in particular” which he said is reflected in the disproportionate number of arrests and charges made against them in Bermuda.

“This bill aims to rectify that as well as include other justice initiatives for education and empowerment opportunities,” he told the media.

“The bill consists of five clauses which decriminalise the possession of cannabis under the statutory limit minimum of seven grams. It provides that criminal sanctions will not apply to persons possessing cannabis under that statutory minimum and or handling such amounts.

“Section 25 of the principal act [Misuse of Drugs Act 1972] is amended to empower the police to seize cannabis from any person and also provides for the Minister of Justice to make regulations providing for assigning drug education and treatment to persons who are likely to benefit from such programmes.

“This would be part of many other steps we will take to complete our aims and objectives of increasing opportunities for Bermudians.

“Outcomes we hope will flow from this legislation include the reduction of criminalisation figures among Bermudian residents and guest visitors alike who have been caught with small amounts of cannabis.

“This is a step along the way of ending life altering consequences including being prohibited to travelling to the United States of America and Canada, and having one's reputation smeared and job prospects shattered due to simple possession of cannabis.

“As the statistics show black people in our society are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged and convicted for cannabis possession. This criminalisation for minor, non-violent possession is damaging for hundreds of Bermudians young and old and it must end.”

Ms Wilson outlined how the amendment would affect minors, adding: “What we don't want to do is pass legislation that would have the effect of permitting minors to do likewise.

“To permit minors to be able to go and possess seven grams of marijuana or less would quite frankly be creating a disservice to our youth.

“The requirement for minors found in possession of seven grams or less does require mandatory substance abuse education or treatment as the regulations that will come through this act will set out.”

Mr Rabain said that the current law is “severely reducing access to educational and other opportunities”: an issue he said was raised often during his time canvassing constituents.

He added: “I am speaking from the perspective of talking to people on the doorstep — this is an issue that comes up time and time again from the father who cannot go away to see his child play in a sporting tournament to a young woman who has no access to overseas education and has been frozen out of employment opportunities. We need to stop this system that obstructs real opportunities.”

In his response, Mr Moniz also noted legislation was passed last year that would allow the Director of Public Prosecutions to authorise police to issue a formal warning to an individual instead of charge.

He said the OBA also introduced legislation allowing the use of medical marijuana and pledged in the Throne Speech to further reform for more medical treatment options through the importation of herbal supplements containing Cannabinol.

“While I appreciate the PLP's need to be seen to be leading this issue, the Government has initiated a responsible and inclusive approach to the development of this important change in the law,” he said.

“Proceeding without the input of the Bermuda Police Service and the Department of Public Prosecutions would be premature and flawed.

“Partisan political manoeuvring should not interfere with the responsible implementation of changes to our laws. In this regard, the Government looks forward to working with the Opposition to move this important reform forward for a better Bermuda.”

He pointed to the OBA's Throne Speech pledge, which stated: “The Government will consult with respect to the decriminalisation for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

“To that end, Government reforms will preserve police powers to confiscate cannabis and to test whether road users are under the influence of cannabis.

“These reforms will complement our efforts to educate our youth about the dangerous effects of drug use, balancing the need to reduce the consumption of cannabis while avoiding the unnecessary criminalisation of our young people.”

• To see the statements in full, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”

Both parties want to decriminalise possession of small amounts of cannabis

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Published February 01, 2017 at 4:00 pm (Updated February 01, 2017 at 6:48 pm)

OBA in decriminalisation talks with police

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