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Cannabis criminal convictions clearance hits snag

A law designed to clear the criminal convictions of people caught with small amounts of cannabis has hit problems because old documents often failed to quantify the amounts of drugs involved.

The Attorney-General, Kathy Lynn Simmons, told MPs on Friday that work to expunge records of people caught in possession of small amounts of the drug since a legal change in 2020 had faced problems because of patchy police and court records.

She admitted: “To date, two expungement orders have been issued by the minister and we are seeking remedies as it relates to other applications.”

Ms Simmons added that work to clear records had “encountered a glitch” as many failed to specify the amounts of the drug involved in an offence.

Speaking on Friday during the Budget debate for the Ministry of Legal Affairs , she said: “Many historical records did not capture this data due to the lack of technology in years past.

“This has led to hard files having to be searched in the archives of the courts and the Bermuda Police Service.

“Some of the files are contaminated and, as this was not the focal point in years gone by, some records do not actually specify the quantity of the drug.

“This is being worked on.”

Ms Simmons was speaking as she updated the House on destruction of criminal records for simple possession of 7g or less of the drug for offences committed before December 20, 2017, when a law to decriminalise cannabis was passed.

Ms Simmons said that an online application process to have records cleared was still “a work in progress”.

Some applicants failed to qualify to have their record cleared because the amount of cannabis was known to have exceeded 7g.

The news came as Ms Simmons said the legalisation of cannabis will go ahead.

She was unable to say when the legal change stalled by the Senate would come into force.

She highlighted that the Cannabis Licensing Bill was passed in the House last year but delayed in the Senate after the Upper House voted against the legislation.

Ms Simmons insisted: “Forging ahead, the work continues for these measures to be fully implemented and operationalised.”

She added: “The ministry recognises the scope this reform can bring and will further advance this initiative, in no means being deterred.”

She added that convictions for small amounts of cannabis have “plagued many residents for years” and had hampered travel and employment opportunities.

Ms Simmons said work on legalisation would continue in 2022-23 and would include education and protections for young people and the vulnerable.

She added: “Ministry leadership on cannabis reform will ensure that the rules and licensing structure for regulated medical and responsible adult uses of cannabis are fit for purpose, effectively regulated and implemented with equitable economic benefits and social justice considerations.”

Ms Simmons said that “absolute cannabis criminalisation” affected men in particular — and insisted that “prohibition alone simply does not work”.

She added that a regulated regime similar to that used for alcohol would be introduced for cannabis.

Ms Simmons said the changes would “not undo the work by members of the community battling on the front lines to reduce the harmful effects of drugs”.

The news meant that a showdown between the Bermuda and British governments over cannabis legalisation continued to loom.

Rena Lalgie, the Governor, said last year that she could not approve legalisation of the drug for anything other than medical and scientific use because of Britain’s international treaty obligations.

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Published March 14, 2022 at 8:31 am (Updated March 14, 2022 at 8:31 am)

Cannabis criminal convictions clearance hits snag

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