Weeks: we need to talk about cannabis
More changes to the law on cannabis could be in the works, the Minister of Social Development and Sport has signalled.
Michael Weeks said that more discussions on the island's attitude to the drug would take place — with further liberalisation of the law not ruled out.
He added: “A larger conversation eventually will come.”
Mr Weeks said: “Legalisation is something that's going to have to be talked about and may have to be sooner rather than later.
“There's an almost worldwide trend. Right now, here, it's medical use, but some countries have legalised for recreational purposes.”
Two licences have been issued to local doctors to prescribe the drug for medical reasons.
Parliament approved the decriminalisation of 7g or less of cannabis last December.
Mr Weeks said the decriminalisation move was driven by the plight of “young men, especially our young black men, who were highly represented on the stop list”.
He added: “We've heard horror stories of people caught many years ago with one joint who, up to now, still have to apply for a visa to get into the United States.
“Educational opportunities for young people have been trashed. That was a main impetus.”
But Mr Weeks emphasised that cannabis was still illegal.
He said that the ministry was contemplating a “summer campaign” on driving home the facts.
Mr Weeks added: “As minister, I still find myself having to explain the difference. The powers that police had are still there.
“They can arrest, they can take the drug from you, and if they suspect you have further drugs they can search your person and your home.”
Mr Weeks said a Green Paper — a discussion document — to look at drug use in Bermuda and the public's views was now in draft form.
He declined to reveal its contents but said the Cabinet would consider the paper in the next few weeks and it would be published by the end of December.
Mr Weeks, a former government whip, was speaking six months after he took over the ministry after Zane DeSilva resigned.
On the topic of the change in date for the Bermuda Day holiday from May 24 to the last Friday in May, he said it happened last November, before he became minister.
However, Mr Weeks said that a change in the date had been “a project of mine going back about six years”.
He added: “I tried to get it passed a few times. Even though it had the support of both sides, I couldn't get it passed on the floor. When this government took over, that was one of the things this ministry wanted to champion.”
Mr Weeks said that as well as attracting more support for the parade and associated events, the change helped more schoolchildren get involved in the celebration.
He added: “School attendance the next day had a marked drop when it was May 24. I never had hard evidence for employees, but one can assume that happened as well after all those libations. That was a driving force.”
Mr Weeks said: “As a tourism product we were looking at enhancing it and we hope it catches on with East Coast Americans who are looking for a long weekend, because right around that time it's their Memorial Day holiday.
“Once every two or three years we'll have Bermuda Day on the Friday and Memorial Day on the next Monday.”
Mr Weeks added that family mediation legislation, also a Throne Speech commitment, was passed in the House of Assembly earlier this month.
He added that “litigation guardians” — trained advocate appointed for children going before the courts — were expected to become the norm soon.
Mr Weeks said: “That's in train right now.”
He added that changes to the financial assistance system to make it “more 21st century compatible” were in the final stages.
The proposals will be reviewed by the minister and taken to Cabinet.
Mr Weeks said the demand for help had been “consistent”.
He added: “What we are continuing to see is seniors reaching out, more and more.”
Mr Weeks said another group that could get more help was jobless Bermudians coming back home from overseas who may need financial assistance “until they get on their feet”.
He added: “The issue with the legislation as it now stands is that they have to be in Bermuda for a year before they can qualify for financial assistance.
“With the current economic climate worldwide, that's a challenge that is being looked at.”