Resignation: Erin Hill has left the CRC group. *Photo by Danny McDonald
Resignation: Erin Hill has left the CRC group. *Photo by Danny McDonald

A resignation from a task force charged with examining ways to reform the island’s cannabis laws has brought with it a host of political finger-pointing over the direction of the group.

Erin Hill announced his resignation from the Cannabis Reform Collaborative earlier this week, suggesting that the group was biased and that there was ulterior agenda at play. He did not elaborate.

Yesterday, Mr Hill again declined to expound upon what he believes to be the group’s ulterior agenda, but he did say he was not pressured to leave by any political group.

The PLP has suggested the committee is a product of Minister of Public Safety, Michael H. Dunkley.

Yesterday,  the PLP found itself in a peculiar position, as in separate statements the party professed ignorance of Mr Hill’s political affiliation, while at the same time using his resignation as proof that the CRC was biased.

Specifically, the PLP issued a statement yesterday saying that Mr Hill has alleged the committee has been formed to rubberstamp Dunkley and the OBA’s viewpoint on cannabis policy, something CRC members deny.

“The Minister needs to come clean and drop his current duck-and-hide approach,” read one PLP statement.

Another statement, attributed to MP Michael Weeks Shadow Minister for Youth, Sport, Community and Cultural Development, stated: “I for one have no clue what Mr. Hill’s political affiliation is, nor do I care.”

For his part, Mr Hill, currently a legal understudy, rejected the notion that the PLP persuaded him to resign as a political manoeuvre.

“It was my own decision,” he said.

Dunkley could not be reached for comment before deadline yesterday.

The PLP and the OBA were at loggerheads earlier in the week over a PLP proposal that would have decriminalized personal possession for small amounts of marijuana. Mr Dunkley indicated the idea was reckless.

Yesterday, one CRC member, who asked not to be named, batted away the idea of bias or the idea that the group was designed to reach a foregone conclusion that would meet with the approval of the OBA or anyone else.

“We all tried really hard to work together. It’s not about the people. It’s not about the parties. 

“It’s about what is best for Bermuda,” said the member, who said that there were members of both parties in the group.

Hill was one of three members of the CRC to resign recently.

Kamal Worrell, a criminal defense lawyer and Krystl Assan, a literacy educator and communications manager, also left.

Mr Worrell and Ms Assan, according to CRC member Stratton Hatfield, have resigned citing personal commitments that make them unable to serve the collaborative.

Mr Hill, however, has resigned saying the group has an ulterior agenda and biases that will taint whatever recommendations it produces. 

He says the group is not interested in a “genuine consultation” with the public about the possibility of the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.

“I have come to the conclusion that this committee has an ulterior agenda to ultimately take a certain position on cannabis and we are seeking relevant information to support that position,” he said Wednesday at a press conference.

“We have not engaged in a generic fact-finding mission to consider all aspects and research in an unbiased matter.”

Stratton Hatfield, a CRC lead group member, said he was disappointed Mr Hill had not attended the last three meetings, where the group spoke about the need to be unbiased.

“I don’t know what he’s referring to with ulterior motives, I’d like him to clarify what he means,” said Mr Hatfield.

The collaborative, which began meeting last month, is considering reclassification, decriminalization, medical use of marijuana and full-blown legalization of the drug.

The group hopes to produce findings for the government’s consideration before this summer’s legislative session.

“We’re still committed to our initial responsibilities, which is to consult with the public and provide a paper for the government to consider,” said Mr Hatfield. 

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Statement by Shadow Minister of Public Safety Hon Michael J Scott JP MP

The Bermuda Progressive Labour Party is approaching Cannabis law reform with caution, realism and careful consideration. The PLP‘s policy rationale for change of cannabis laws, is first and foremost one of social justice for Bermudians and in particular our young people.

Minister of Public Safety the Hon. Michael Dunkley missed an opportunity to engage in a productive, constructive, collaborative debate that would have built upon and improve the PLP's Bill. Instead, he chose to focus on politics over progress. With his words he has displayed a complete lack of focus, sensitivity and empathy for the problem of young Bermudian men who face disparities of punishment in the criminal justice system for possession of small quantities of cannabis and the threat of being put on the stop-list.

The disparity of treatment of people in possession of small amounts of cannabis by Bermuda’s criminal Justice system is not new. In 1992 this problem was looked at by Judge Stephen Tumin who wrote to then Premier Sir John Swan confirming his mandate to address amongst other things, “…the perception that persons of different races and backgrounds are treated differently by the system.”

The PLP believes in equal treatment before the law.  When it comes to cannabis possession, in 2014 the system is simply not working. As a government in waiting we have a responsibility to push for progress and a Bermuda where no man walks free while another man is punished for committing the same offense.