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New cannabis law ‘will help overcome stigma’

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Legislation to allow cannabis convictions to be removed from the record was approved in the House of Assembly on Friday.But Ministers warned that the amendments would probably not remove Bermudians from the United States “stop list”, which makes it difficult for those with criminal convictions to enter the US.Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said the decriminalisation of small amounts of cannabis in 2017 was a first step towards achieving social justice for those who have been historically targeted by cannabis prohibition laws.She added: “The next logical step is to offer redress to those carrying criminal records for possessing small amounts of cannabis before the decriminalisation law came into effect.”Under the new legislation, she said those who were convicted of 7g or less of cannabis will be able to apply to the Minister of Legal Affairs to have that conviction expunged from their record.Ms Wilson added: “There are persons in Bermuda with criminal convictions on record for an offence which is now decriminalised because their conviction was reported prior to the law taking place in December 2017.“It would be unfair to leave those to continue to suffer for an offence that has been repealed.“This bill will allow people to overcome the negative stigma, bias and exclusion attached to those criminal histories.”However she warned that Bermuda is not responsible for the US stop list, and Bermudians with convictions may still face difficulties travelling to Ms Wilson added: “Where we can give assurances is by highlighting that once an expungement order is issues, local authorities would be prohibited from providing criminal conviction records for the expunged offence to any person or entity, locally or internationally.”Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, said the legislation “plugged a hole” left when small quantities of cannabis was decriminalised.He also warned that, while it was a positive step, the main issue for many people was the US stop list.Mr Pearman said: “What this is not doing is it’s not going to get people off the stop list.“It isn’t going to solve the stop list problem, and I think that’s a problem that needs greater consideration.”Craig Cannonier, the Opposition Leader, suggested that Government send a delegation to the US to try to address the stop list issue.Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said the move was one example of the Progressive Labour Party levelling the playing field on the island.He said action needed to be taken to address the “unfair, biased, racist justice system” that has long put targets on the backs of young black men.Mr Rabain noted the disproportionate number of black Bermudians who are arrested and jailed on the island to highlight the continued inequality.He said: “This is not going to remove people from the stop list. This will not end institutional racism.“However it’s a step in the right direction and a step on the path of redemption for our people.”Leah Scott, the deputy Opposition leader, said that while the legislation would expunge convictions, it would not remove references from past convictions from the internet.But Micheal Scott, a PLP backbencher, said employers would not be allowed to use the expunged convictions against potential employees even if records of them remains online.Backbencher Rolfe Commissiong said the amendment was a step in the right direction to address the racial disparity in Bermuda.He said the “war on drugs” in the western world had unfairly targeted generations of black men and that drug use should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.