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MP hits back at Opposition’s cannabis plans

Mark Pettingill

One Bermuda Alliance MP Mark Pettingill has criticised the Progressive Labour Party’s approach to decriminalising cannabis possession in small quantities as “ill-founded and wrong”.

After new Opposition leader David Burt delivered his party’s Throne Speech response yesterday, backbencher Mr Pettingill rebuked the PLP for oversimplifying its proposed overhaul of cannabis laws.

Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr Burt said: “The criminalisation of our citizens for minor, non-violent possession is an open sore on our society, damaging the lives of hundreds of Bermudians, young and old.”

The PLP leader added that many people had been “obstructed from years of real opportunity” after having their criminal records blemished by a cannabis possession charge.

He suggested also that the issue needed to be addressed as a matter of fairness, given that black people were significantly more likely than white people to be arrested, charged and convicted for the offence.

“The OBA has had time to lead on this issue, and they have failed,” he said.

“Therefore the PLP will table a Bill to remove criminal penalties for simple cannabis possession below a prescribed amount.”

While agreeing that the law needed changing, Mr Pettingill claimed that the Opposition’s stated solution to the problem was vague and unworkable.

He insisted that Bermuda should adopt a “stepping stone” approach to the issue, noting that California had just legalised recreational marijuana use — but only after introducing laws providing for medicinal use of the drug.

The OBA MP also emphasised the importance of regulating cannabis in areas such as production and tax, in much the same way as the alcohol industry.

Pointing out that the Reply contained no specifics on quantities or penalties pertaining to cannabis, he added: “Here’s the problem: you have to get the cannabis from a drug dealer, which is illegal.

“It’s a soundbite that you wouldn’t be able to make work.”

Nandi Outerbridge, the government whip, called decriminalisation “a step up from the current caution policy” but questioned the extent to which the Opposition had engaged in consultation on the issue.

However, Ms Outerbridge agreed with the PLP that the majority of persons disadvantaged by the policy were young black men.

A rethink of Bermuda’s cannabis laws has been in the works for some time, with Larry Mussenden, the Director of Public Prosecutions, putting the caution policy out for public input this year.

UPDATE: this story has been amended to remove the inference that the PLP is backing the legalisation of cannabis