Bermuda Govt and Opposition differ on ways to decriminalise ganja

HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) – Government and opposition legislators appear to be adopting differing positions with regards to the decriminalisation of marijuana.

National Security Minister Michael Dunkley said the proposal contained in the proposed Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2014, which the opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP) is not likely to find support from government legislators.

According to the amendment being proposed by the PLP at the upcoming parliamentary session, possession of up to 20 grams of cannabis will be decriminalised.

But Dunkley, who is also Deputy Premier, has dismissed the proposal as “reckless and not thought through.

“The average cannabis cigarette contains about half a gram of cannabis. If the PLP’s Bill became law, it would be legal for someone to possess 40 joints. This is outrageous and I refuse to believe that this is supported by the people of Bermuda.

“For collaboration to be useful it must make sense and be reflective of reality and best practice. This is no more than pandering by the opposition and it fails both tests from the outset,” he added.

But PLP legislator, Marc Daniels, speaking at a news conference, has disagreed with plans by the government to establish a task force to examine the merits and demerits of decriminalising the use of marijuana.

He wants the government to act with urgency on the matter.

“Bermudians, residents and guest visitors alike, who have been caught with small amounts of cannabis, have suffered life altering and devastating consequences for far too long,” said Daniels, who is also an attorney.

“Bermudians have been prohibited from travelling to the United States and Canada, we have had our reputations smeared and job prospects shattered due to convictions for simple possession of cannabis.

“While we welcome the OBA (One Bermuda Alliance) for taking the lead in creating an island wide discussion with town hall meetings and presentations to come, we feel that such discussions should be limited to the aspects of legalisation and/or regulation, and that decisions concerning decriminalisation, or de-penalising small said amounts of cannabis, should take place with immediate effect”.

Daniels said “there is an overwhelming level of support for such initiatives based on the feedback we have heard within our community that reflects the sentiment and contemporary mindset of our people today”.

The opposition proposals would result in the law decriminalizing marijuana coming into effect in June this year.

But Dunkley said introducing a Bill that did not have public input and did not meet several government aims was ‘simply irresponsible.

“The people of Bermuda will recall that one of our principal objectives in the whole debate around cannabis is to eliminate the restrictions on travel to the United States that can result from a conviction and also to ensure that the United States Government supports our approach to this issue,” he added.

Caribbean countries have been debating the decriminalisation of marijuana after St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, last September wrote his regional colleagues calling for a “reasoned debate” led by CARICOM’s political and civic leadership on the issue.

Gonsalves said that the debate should take place in the context of the legalisation of marijuana for medical and health purposes in 20 states in the US.

But the regional leaders agreed that the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat should conduct further research on the medical and legal implications of decriminalising marijuana and that further consultations will take place during the CARICOM Inter-Sessional summit in St Vincent next month.