OBA offers cautious support to planned change in drug sentencing
Plans for introducing a new sentencing framework for young people caught with small amounts of drugs have been given in principle support by the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance.
But UBP MP, Kim Swan, says he smells an election ploy in the works.
“It makes good sense,” said Mr Swan. “But I’m duty bound to remind persons that these issues do come up every time an election is near.”
OBA leader Craig Cannonier cautiously endorsed the intent behind the Throne Speech proposal last night, but warned that there was so far little information to form a firm position and that Government may lack the capacity to deliver on its pledge.
Government’s crime and policy approach, as articulated in the Throne Speech is to incarcerate as a last resort particularly with respect to young offenders.
It pledges to introduce a “new sentencing framework for young people including the establishment of a new classification of sanctions related to different types of drugs”.
A significant concern driving the proposals is the fact that many young people find themselves unable to travel to the US for education or other legitimate purposes because they have been convicted of drug possession.
Both Attorney General, Senator Kim Wilson, and Senator Jonathan Smith have highlighted the fact that many young people end up on the US Stop List for smoking marijuana.
“The One Bermuda Alliance agrees in principle that we should not penalise for life people caught with small amounts of contraband,” said Craig Cannonier last night.
“This party believes people need opportunity to succeed and penalties that prevent them from ever again entering other jurisdictions, particularly the United States of America, are not acceptable to us.
“It would be presumptuous to say we can change US policy that is such an integral part of their national security apparatus. So whatever solutions there are must come from us.”
But Mr Cannonier went on to say that so far the specifics of its plans were scant and questioned whether the Government will be able to implement them in any case.
“We also want to make sure that whatever plan they come forward with is doable. This is a Government with little money left to its name. It has cut back the police budget in the midst of a crime crisis that virtually everyone in Bermuda wants to end. So the question of following through on what it says and promises is a big issue for us. When we have more information, we will let you know our position on their position.”
Mr Swan, for his part, is almost certain that nothing will come of the Throne Speech pledge. “Kim Wilson has taken it a step beyond,” he said referring to what he claimed is a tradition of using “hot button” issues as a vote getting strategy.
“It becomes another hot button issue that usually dies a very cruel death after the election,” Mr Swan said.
“I’ve been here long enough to know there’s got to be a morning after.”
Shadow Business Development Minister Shawn Crockwell, a lawyer, told
The Royal Gazette that the Stop List policy was discretionary and it wasn’t necessary to be convicted to end up on it.
“If the intelligence that US Immigration receives from whatever source, usually the Bermuda Police Service, that an individual is involved in behaviour that is unbecoming, they can put you on the Stop List,” Mr Crockwell said.
Besides the BPS, US Immigration gathers intelligence from newspapers, the courts and may even conduct its own surveillance by following residents suspected of unbecoming behaviour when they travel off the Island.
Mr Crockwell said he was aware of a case that involved a man who was put on the Stop List because he travelled frequently with people “believed to be involved in the drug industry.”
“It’s not just drug offences. It could be for all offences,” he continued. “It’s a strictly US/Immigration decision and it’s completely discretionary.”
But Mr Crockwell said there was no question that reducing convictions for drug offences would help keep young people off the Stop List.
“The majority of young people that go on the Stop List are convicted of marijuana possession,” he said.