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Bill to expunge some cannabis convictions

Legislation to wipe convictions for possession of small amounts cannabis off the records was tabled in the House of Assembly.

The Expungement of Convictions Act was designed to remove the stigma of past convictions for people who were caught with small amounts of the drug before it was decriminalised three years ago.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, said cannabis laws had penalised young black men and damage their education and job prospects.

Ms Simmons added the 2017 Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act decriminalised possession of 7g or less of cannabis.

She said on Friday: “At the time, the wider social justice policy objective was to discontinue the longstanding practice of criminalising individuals for personal cannabis use.

“It was a long overdue response to generations of Bermudians receiving criminal penalties for being caught with small amounts of cannabis.

“It was the realisation of a campaign promise to rid our society of the unfairness, especially to young black men, of harsh drug enforcement and criminal justice practices, long recognised as having a lifetime impact on education and employment prospects for our youth.”

Ms Simmons added the next logical move was “to redress those carrying criminal records for possessing small amounts of cannabis before the cannabis decriminalisation law came into effect”.

She said: “There are persons in Bermuda with criminal convictions on record for an offence which is now decriminalised because their conviction was recorded prior to the amendments in the law taking effect in December 2017.

“Accordingly, it would be unfair to leave those persons to continue to suffer the consequences for an offence which has been repealed and that societal values no longer considers warrants criminal sanction. This Bill provides the opportunity for those affected persons to overcome the negative stigma, biases and exclusion attached to those criminal histories.”

Anyone convicted of possession of less than seven grammes of cannabis before December 20, 2017, should apply to the Minister of Legal Affairs for an expungement order under the new legislation, if passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Ms Simmons said: “An expungement order will have the effect of completely erasing the applicable criminal conviction.

“For all intents and purposes, that conviction will no longer exist under Bermuda law and for conducting affairs within Bermuda.”

Constance Dierman, the former United States Consul General, warned last month that travel restrictions to the US for people with cannabis convictions would remain in force, even if the legislation comes into play. Ms Simmons said yesterday: “One of the pressing questions locally is whether expungement of a prior cannabis conviction record will avoid a person being on the US immigration's ‘stop list'.

“This question cannot be answered definitively, as US immigration policy is entirely of its own making and operates independent of other countries' laws.”

But she added that island authorities would be prohibited from the provision of criminal records for the wiped offence to any person or entity, in Bermuda or overseas.

Ms Simmons said: “No new criminal record information for expunged offences could be provided to US immigration authorities post-expungement.

“It can also be said that, with the relatively recent trend of decriminalisation across the US, expungement offers the best opportunity for overcoming the ‘stop list' hurdle in the future.”

She added: “This latest measure towards achieving social and restorative justice in Bermuda, especially for young black Bermudian men, will not be the last.”

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published July 20, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 20, 2020 at 9:05 am)

Bill to expunge some cannabis convictions

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