*Creative Commons photo
*Creative Commons photo

Cannabis should be decriminalized but regulated, according to Opposition MP David Burt.

The Shadow Finance Minister stressed yesterday he does not support legalization, as was reported in other media, but that he is in favour of controlled decriminalization.

Government announced in the Throne Speech it is to produce a public consultation paper on the decriminalization of marijuana.

On Friday, the Opposition presented its reply in the House of Assembly on the issue.

The PLP is calling for the removal of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts, options for the medical use of marijuana on the island, and the regulation of the sale and use of the drug.

By creating such a system, Government could also share in some of the revenue from legalized marijuana sales, it stated.

The Opposition added that convictions for possession of minor amounts had led to “reputations ruined”.

By decriminalizing possession of small amounts, this could also ease the burden on the public purse of housing inmates in our jails — an expense of up to  $80,000.

Mr Burt, MP for Pembroke West Central, yesterday spoke to the Sun on the issue and the forthcoming public consultation paper.

“I hope the Government does not limit the discussion — let’s have a complete public debate on all of it,” he said. We need to look at the whole spectrum.

“The medical profession has said illicit drugs are harmful for a reason, and they do have bad effects on society. There are many families in Bermuda that have been touched by the hurt and pain from addiction, and no one wants anyone else to go through that. But our current drugs policy doesn’t work; it’s a failure. People are needlessly criminalized, and we treat a public health issue like a criminal one.

“We are not going to solve someone’s addiction by locking them up. Addiction should be treated, just like any other illness.

“And we are not going to stop the supply [of drugs]. So long as we realize that, we can adopt different measures.

“Around the world there are massive criminal enterprises springing up that are funded by drugs money. These criminal enterprises can also fuel corruption inside a system, whether it’s at border control (Customs), police or the judges.”

Mr Burt said: “I don’t agree with legalization, but decriminalization has worked in other countries.

“It’s my view that we need a different approach. We need a regulated market for cannabis, just as we have for alcohol and tobacco sales. I believe Bermuda should have a regulated cannabis market; that this presents the best outcome.

“Without question, there are medical benefits to cannabis. And if medical professionals in this country feel they should prescribe cannabis to patients, then they should be allowed to do so.”

Mr Burt said that under current law, the Minister for Public Safety had the power to license cannabis production/prescriptions.

“It’s still technically illegal to sell it so if the minister said, ‘I’m going to license someone to produce it’, it is still illegal to grow and then sell it,” said Mr Burt.

He added that any decriminalization would bring its “own set of problems” and so the issue needed “a full debate to consider all the options”.

“How would we control the production, for example?” Mr Burt asked. 

“We could have controls on access to minors, the places and times of sale, and controls on its use.

“We could also tax it — not just on the sale, but also on individuals who work in this trade. 

“These individuals could bring themselves out of the black economy and start paying payroll tax, health insurance, social insurance and pensions contributions. This would benefit all of Bermuda.

“We need to think outside of the box and to be bold, in order to attract people to our shores but also to make our country safer for all our citizens.

“We need to move forward in stimulating the economy and in increasing tourism.”