Family welfare groups raise doubts about cannabis laws
Child and family welfare campaigners raised concerns yesterday about cannabis laws that are to be debated in the House of Assembly today.
They feared that giving the green light to growing and selling the drug would send the wrong message to young people and asked how regulations will be enforced.
A paediatrician also voiced his worries about the impact of cannabis use on teenagers but another doctor supported the bill for its ability to increase access to the substance for medicinal purposes.
An advocacy committee for the Inter-Agency Committee for Children and Families – an umbrella group that supports the work of service providers and non-profit organisations – received questions from its members about how the legislation will work in practice.
Danielle Frith, the interim programme coordinator for the IAC, explained: “There were a lot of different areas people were concerned with, mostly health outcomes and social and behavioural outcomes.”
The Cannabis Licensing Act 2020, tabled last December, was designed to create a variety of licences for the cannabis industry.
It would remain illegal to have more than 7 grams of the drug without a licence, and cannabis could not be used in public outside of licensed cannabis shops or events.
Use of cannabis by anyone aged under 21 would be prohibited.
The scheme would be overseen by a Cannabis Licensing Authority.
Martha Dismont, who spoke on behalf of the IAC advocacy committee, said: “The real concern is about the authority that’s being set up to regulate the sale and essentially, the concern becomes who are the representatives on that authority?
“Will they be provided with the expertise to ensure there are measures in place to keep greater access away from youth?”
She added: “A lot of the concern here for IAC members surfaces around the fact we don’t really have a proven track record with regard to implementation and regulations for this type of legislation.
“Therefore, there is concern in going forward whether it’s going to be successful.”
Ms Dismont said social service agencies were "having a hard enough time as it is“ working with young people who used marijuana.
She added: “Therefore the legislation sends a different message than we’ve been giving young people, which is if you want to put your best foot forward, realise your vision, your dreams and get a job, then your best foot forward would not be utilising a substance such as marijuana.”
Ms Dismont highlighted that the legislation was said to be designed to “develop an industry that will help the more marginalised in Bermuda”.
Ms Frith pointed out: “Members are concerned that without more information and regulation it would be hard to ensure that outcome.”
She said other members’ questions included “what is the plan for the policy on drug testing of our police and firemen?” and “how are we ensuring that funds are getting spent towards education and preventive services?”.
Ms Frith added that members wanted “more public conversation about the legislation".
Another advocacy committee member said: “We as social services agencies, or we as people who are concerned about the development of our children and the progress of young Bermudian adults, need to understand that regardless of what happens with this legislation, we need to put things in place that are going to be able to mitigate the deleterious effects of widespread marijuana use.
“For me, it’s not about people’s personal choices or any of that kind of stuff, it really is about what’s best for our community and what’s best for our young people.“
The Bill said the licensing authority would be made up of five minister-appointed voting members with experience in the fields of health, scientific research, business, planning and agriculture.
They would be joined by three non-voting ex officio members – the Attorney-General, the Collector of Customs and the Director of the Department of National Drug Control.
The authority would distribute educational materials and organise cannabis-related training programmes alongside the DNDC.
Peter Perinchief, who founded Edgewood Pediatric Services in 1981, said that the active agent in cannabis has been shown to have “epigenetic effects”.
He explained: “It causes genes to turn on and off.”
Dr Perinchief said: “The problem with our species is our brains continue to develop until we are about 25 or 26 years old, so the last thing you want to do is to be bringing on board a chemical which is going to screw up the choreography of that brain."
He added: “We know perfectly well that if you’ve got some 18-year-old kid who is smoking pot, they’ve got some 13-year-old sibling who wants to do it too.”
Dr Perinchief, who said he supported decriminalisation of cannabis use, said that if the Bill was passed, it was “incumbent” upon the Government to educate the public about the possible effects of cannabis on “the juvenile brain”.
He added: “The animal studies have shown exposure of the pregnant female definitely affects the behaviour of the offspring.”
Kyjuan Brown, the medical director at Northshore Medical and Aesthetics Centre, said he supported the Bill but advocated for the availability of cannabis as medicine for those who needed it.
He pointed out that “not many” clinicians were educated in the field of medicinal cannabis.
Dr Brown added: “I’ve gone on and done continuing education for the past five or six years on medical [use] and it opens up your eyes to what it is - and what it’s not.”
He pointed out that if the bill is passed and there was no avenue for medicinal cannabis, patients could “just go down the dispensary and get what they need”.
The Government was contacted for comment but none was received by press time.
• To view the Cannabis Licensing Act 2020 in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media.