WEDNESDAY, JAN. 22, UPDATE: The PLP is pushing a new initiative that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana on the island, but the proposal may be dead in the water as a senior OBA official has labelled it reckless.

Yesterday, PLP Sen Marc Daniels said such a move would make life easier for both island residents and visitors; a marijuana charge can complicate employment, travel and education plans.

The PLP is proposing to decriminalize the possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis, but is willing to discuss reducing that figure. Mr Daniels noted that in the government’s 2013 Speech from the Throne, the OBA sounded willing to discuss the matter “openly and honestly”.

“We hope that the OBA does not merely block the bill that we are seeking to bring forward,” said Daniels.

Such a hope, however, might be nothing more than a pipe dream as the Minister of National Security, Michael Dunkley, called the proposal “reckless and not thought through”.

He said it excluded public input from the process, lacked specifics in terms of regulation, and does not address how to work with the US government regarding cannabis-related travel restrictions. 

“To suggest that a bill in this form or any other is the first step in the process is naïve at best and dangerous at worst,” he said.

He added: “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.”

Mr Dunkley suggested the bill would allow someone to possess 40 joints and still be within the law.

“This is outrageous and I refuse to believe that this is supported by the people of Bermuda,” he said.

The PLP dismissed Mr Dunkley’s criticism. “Rather than deal with the facts, Minister Dunkley has attempted to scare the public into thinking that the PLP has proposed legalization of cannabis - a typical response from a politician who can’t decide which side of the fence he stands on and who can’t be trusted to keep a promise,” read the PLP statement.

After his Tuesday afternoon press conference in Alaska Hall, Mr Daniels said, “As an Opposition we can’t put forward or advance anything that’s considered a money bill.  So from the regulatory standpoint, if it’s going to involve licences and taxes, we’re hamstrung in that regard.”

Michael Scott, the shadow spokesman for public safety, said Bermuda has “not been successful at treating persons equally in this country — particularly young Bermudians — for this offence. Whether it be because of race or economic background, this opposition has long pushed for equal treatment and we see this initiative as doing that.”

He added, “If the DPP’s (Department of Public Prosecution) office isn’t going to have a policy that treats people equally, then the legislative branch is going to try and do that.”

Could this represent the first step to cannabis legalization?

“Time will tell,” said Mr Daniels.

In Colorado, retailers are selling cannabis for recreational use, and Washington state is not far behind. Many more states have legalized the sale of marijuana for medical use. In South America, Uruguay is in the process of legalizing the drug. 

“The question is whether Bermuda wants to wait until all of our neighbours make changes, or will we be bold enough to chart a new destiny and seek new ways of generating revenue; perhaps with an influx of tourists and/or from local taxes and licence fees,” said Mr Daniels. 

“The possibilities are endless if we only dare to be different and seize the moment as opposed to playing catch up.”

Here in Bermuda, the Cannabis Reform Collaborative is in the midst of examining different marijuana policies.

The group expects to publish its findings sometime before this summer’s legislative session. n




6PM UPDATE:

Statement by the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party

The OBA has once again rejected something that they claim to support. This time, it comes as the PLP follows through with an election platform promise to decriminalise possession of cannabis. 

Rather than deal with the facts, Minister Dunkley has attempted to scare the public into thinking that the PLP has proposed legalization of cannabis - a typical response from a politician who can't decide which side of the fence he stands on and who can't be trusted to keep a promise.

The PLP are clear, we want to remove penalties for possession so that no one in the future is added to the stop list and prevented from fulfilling their potential due to simple possession of Marijuana.

We hope that the OBA will back this common sense reform as they examine wider changes to our laws; However while they are working on those changes, we look forward to their support in Parliament as the PLP moves to make sure that all residents receive the same treatment as an the son of an OBA Minister; a future without a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis.

The people or Bermuda deserve real leadership on this issue, and not knee jerk reactions that jeopardize the future aspirations of our people.





5PM UPDATE:  “Reckless and not thought through,” said the Deputy Premier and Minister of National Security, the Hon. Michael H. Dunkley, JP, MP, in response to the Opposition’s press statement and draft Bill related to cannabis possession and handling.

The Minister went on to say, “In the first instance, the Bill, as drafted, legalizes cannabis possession, handling and use and would do so without the benefit of necessary public input. 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.

“To contemplate introducing a Bill that has not first achieved these aims is simply irresponsible. Secondly, every jurisdiction that has legalized cannabis has done so with detailed regulations dealing with critical issues like production, sale, supply and conditions of use. On its own this draft Bill is reckless because none of those things seems to have been considered.

“This Government accepts the worldwide trend in this area of cannabis use both personally and for medical purposes but no country has embarked on a change to their laws at the stroke of a pen but have followed a course similar to what we are doing: research, public debate and education, refining policies and procedures and ultimately legislation. To suggest that a Bill in this form or any other is the first step in this process is naive at best and dangerous at worst. This Government has been very clear about our intentions and the process we are following.

“The average cannabis cigarette contains about ½ 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.”

 



Statement by Senator Marc Daniels

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

It is especially sad to frequently witness these statistics, especially among many of our youth on what seems like a weekly basis. However, it cannot be said that the cannabis issue is limited to youthful indiscretions and lapses in judgment. Many individuals have been caught with small amounts of cannabis on repeated occasions, willing to take the risks in the same manner as some of our forefathers did when consuming alcohol during America’s prohibition.

For years we have seen court decisions result in different outcomes, which in turn has raised question marks in the public domain; based on perceptions of racial, age or gender bias, which are further exacerbated by what many perceive as class or economic distinctions. While we accept that the media does not report all details of a particular case, upon which Judges contemplate, in order to reach their ultimate decision or ruling; it is clear from various media reports, and the pulse of the country that there is a wide perception that similar cases are treated differently based on an individual’s last name, place of residence or profession, which in turn fosters a culture of lack of respect or understanding for the court process generally.

While we fully respect the separation of the Legislature and the Judiciary and the discretion afforded to sentencing judges, our position is that there need be greater uniformity in terms of the application of the law in certain circumstances. It is our opinion that cannabis use transcends race, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, class and political affiliations, etc. And while we accept that ignorance of the law is no excuse, we appreciate the sentiment shared by many, that an unjust law is not good law.

There appears to be a tidal wave of change taking place with our neighbors to our West and South regarding cannabis and cannabis usage. Some US States are making cannabis legal for both medicinal purposes as well as recreational use. The question is whether Bermuda wants to wait until all of our neighbors make changes, or will we be bold enough to chart a new destiny and seek new ways of generating revenue; perhaps with an influx of tourists and/or from local taxes and license fees. The possibilities are endless if we only dare to be different and seize the moment as opposed to playing catch up.

As the Loyal Opposition, the PLP cannot advance any legislative action that involves revenue for the government; however, we have not let this stop our ability to play an active role in ensuring that the interests of the community are being met fairly, justly and with expedience, when appropriate.

In 2012, the PLP promised in our election platform that we would seek to end the unnecessary criminalization of all of Bermuda’s residents and guests and find new ways to regulate cannabis usage in Bermuda.

In the Government’s 2013 Speech from the Throne, the One Bermuda Alliance has also expressed their willingness to discuss this issue openly and honestly.  While we welcome the OBA 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 legalization and/or regulation; and that decisions concerning decriminalization, or de-penalizing small amounts of cannabis, should take place with immediate effect as 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.

It is our position that there has already been much discussion in the public domain in support of bringing an end to treating simple possession of small amounts of cannabis as a criminal offence; and therefore we wish to move that such “change” can be advanced with the “urgency of now”, not as a matter of “shared sacrifice” but in the true spirit of doing what is right.

To that end, the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party has drafted the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2014, which we shall seek to table in the House of Assembly at the next day of business in February 2014.

The proposed Bill shall seek to remove the criminality for simple possession of cannabis under the prescribed limit, which is already deemed to be 20 grams of cannabis under the current legislative framework. If the Government in its wisdom feels that a lesser amount should be applied, we would be willing to discuss and if need be, debate and amend this issue at a later stage; but for now, it is our position that this simple change will alleviate many families’ concerns for their offspring, regardless of their age; and it may alleviate any trauma and stress for our visitors who come into possession of cannabis while they are on island.

Many will no doubt question why such moves were not undertaken during our 14 years as Government, but I wish to remind the public that MP Ashfield Devent has spoken on cannabis extensively while he served the community, as well as our current Party Leader, who addressed these issues in his maiden speech as an MP. These, and other brave voices ultimately lead to our Previous Leader including such an action plan in our Election Platform.

Under the leadership of the Hon. Marc A. R. Bean, JP MP, the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party has committed itself to bring about a new vision and a new energy to help move Bermuda forward. We have demonstrated progressive thinking under his Leadership in our Replies to the Throne Speech as well as our Replies to the Budget Statement. We have supported much that the OBA has sought to pass into legislation and we have not sought to criticize for the sake of criticism; despite the sound bites that often shape this perception as reality.

In November last year, we attempted to bring a Bill to abolish conscription, which was met with contempt and ridicule by the OBA Members of the House of Assembly. We simultaneously drafted this decriminalization Bill, which we had intended to table during the last Parliamentary Session. However, based on the OBA’s approach to the conscription Bill, we considered it necessary to take a different approach and afford the government more time to reflect on our proposed amendments.

Therefore, in an effort to avoid such confrontation going forward, we have sought to advance our proposed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act in an effort to work with the OBA Government so that they may review this draft Bill critically on its merits; and where possible, provide further amendments, if necessary, to ensure that the Bill represents the voice of the majority of our community.

We hope that the OBA does not merely block the Bill that we are seeking to bring forward. We are all aware and respect, that the OBA is our government; however, where the law and the Rules of the House of Assembly enable us to be proactive, we shall seek to take steps that no Opposition has undertaken in the past, by advancing legislation to alleviate the workload of the government, in a spirit of collaboration, to advance solutions for our collective benefit that we urgently require.