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Curb applauds cannabis Bill amendments

The approval of amendments aimed at decriminalising the possession of small amounts of cannabis was applauded yesterday by anti-racism charity Curb.

Lynn Winfield, the charity's president, called the amendments a step in the right direction to address the criminalisation of young black men.

She called on the opposition and the government to further consider the charity's recommendations and “begin the process of moving towards legalisation of cannabis once the appropriate studies have been carried out on how best to regulate”.

“Curb is an advocate for the use of restorative justice in Bermuda's criminal justice system, and this legislation takes a step in the right direction and will hopefully prevent the further criminalisation of our young black males,” she said. “As part of that restorative justice process, there is a need to ensure the conviction of any individual for this amount of cannabis be overturned, so that their record can be wiped clean.”

The Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 must first pass through the Senate and be approved by the Governor before becoming enshrined in law.

However should it pass those barriers, the possession of up to 7 grams of cannabis would be decriminalised on June 30.

According to the law, drugs would still be seized and minors caught with any amount of cannabis could be required to go through drug education or treatment.

And the Department of Public Prosecutions could still seek charges for intent to supply, if there was sufficient evidence, even if the drugs amounted to less than 7 grams.

Michael Scott, the shadow attorney-general, said the amendments were intended to help prevent Bermudians, particularly young black males, from suffering the long-term consequences of a drugs conviction, including placement on the US “stop list”.

“Our history in the even dispensation of justice has been dire, as reflected in the observations of independent investigations of the drug issue,” Mr Scott said.

“Certainly this Decriminalisation Bill is exclusively about addressing historic uneven arrest and prosecution policies that target one section of our society over another.”

Mr Scott also emphasised that 7 grams is a “most conservative amount, given the fact that 28 grams is generally seen as the amount […] that the law in other countries deems as simple possession”.

The One Bermuda Alliance had tabled its own decriminalisation legislation with a limit of 3 grams, but the legislation was approved without objection after receiving a handful of amendments on the floor.

Michael Dunkley also noted that there had been concerns that 7 grams was “pushing that envelope too far”. But he added that the primary aim was to deal with the stop list, which has been “the bane of probably thousands of people just in my lifetime alone”.

The Premier said it was also necessary to focus attention on “being able to look at expunging people's record in this regard and also remove people from the stop list”.

Kim Wilson, meanwhile, stressed the negative impact that cannabis can have on adolescents, leading to higher risks of mental illness. Noting amendments brought forward on the floor to require young people caught with cannabis to undergo drug education, she said: “We have two competing interests that need to be addressed and this Bill addresses both of those issues.”

Her concerns were echoed by OBA MP Susan Jackson, who called for some sort of support system for parents and victims of schizophrenia and “other disorders that are directly attributed to the misuse or use of cannabis”.

While Ms Jackson said the legislation was a long time coming, she said it also comes with a “level of responsibility for all of those that may want to take advantage of the consumption and use of cannabis in this community”.

Environment minister Sylvan Richards recounted how he was stopped and searched one night in his youth by police — the officer did not find the joint he had in his pouch, he said.

“My life would've changed completely. If I would have got busted that day, I probably would not have got to go to university and the whole trajectory of my life would have gone someplace else.”

He said he had long hoped to do something to help those who had been less fortunate. But he also said that professions such as the fire service or construction were already struggling to hire Bermudians because many could not pass a drugs test, which could potentially become even more difficult.

PLP MP Jamahl Simmons said that while he supported the bill, “each of us in our community who do engage in marijuana need to ask yourself a question — if you need it to get your confidence up to go pull some leg, you need to examine your use”.

“If you need it to deal with the stress of your job and you can't face the day without it, you need to examine your use. If you are avoiding working in certain places because they drug test, you need to examine your use.”

Education minister Cole Simons, however, said that as education minister, said he could not support the Bill.

“We have encouraged our students to live our drug free life,” he said. “We have encouraged our students to make wise choices, so in my mind it would be duplicitous of me to support this legislation because it will basically allow the usage of marijuana to increase in this country”.

Leah Scott also said the legislation was a challenge for her, saying that while it was important to create a level playing field for young black males, she knew through her son the potential risks.

Independent MP Mark Pettingill, who tabled several amendments to the Bill, said money needs to be placed into education and treatment rather than the war on drugs, which he said has already been lost.

While he said there might be some debate in the details, for the most part they were all singing from the same pew. He said believes there should be a move towards licencing for cultivation, but the decriminalisation was a first step.

“I believe we have to move it forward,” he said “Lets move it forward not back.”

Michael Weeks, meanwhile, called on increased early education on drug issues, saying: “A lot of times we talk about education only after the horse has left the stable.”

And he said that the island needs to have a conversation about cannabis cultivation and where the legal lines should be drawn.

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Published May 22, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 22, 2017 at 2:31 am)

Curb applauds cannabis Bill amendments

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