A report from Jamaica’s Observer.
The ruling One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) government has assured the Opposition party Progressive Labour Party (PLP) that it has been holding talks with police and prosecutors over plans to decriminalise possession of small amounts of marijuana.
One of the most damaging consequences for Bermudians convicted of marijuana possession is that the United States and Canada places them on their stop-lists.
Attorney-General Trevor Moniz gave an update on Wednesday on the OBA’s Throne Speech pledge last November, after the Opposition PLP revealed it would table a decriminalisation of cannabis Bill in the House of Assembly.
At a news conference ahead of Friday’s reconvening of Parliament, Shadow Attorney-General Michael Scott said the PLP’s proposed legislation would drop penalties against those found with a small amount of the drug.
In a press release, Moniz said – “I am pleased to hear that the Progressive Labour Party is on board with the government’s plan to decriminalise possession of small amounts of cannabis.
“The government committed to doing so in last November’s Throne Speech and has initiated consultations with the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Bermuda Police Service to develop appropriate legislation.
“The aim of the legislation is to eliminate unjust consequences that have occurred under the current system, most particularly the unnecessary criminalisation of young Bermudians.
“Our commitment to decriminalise possession of small amounts of cannabis is one step in the government’s efforts to reform Bermuda’s cannabis laws as they relate to the criminal justice system and public health.”
Earlier, Scott said the PLP’s Bill would decriminalise possession of up to seven grams of the drug and provide education and treatment opportunities for those who are caught in possession of such amounts.
He also drew attention to the “epidemic and unjust outcomes for hundreds of black citizens — young black men in particular” which he said is reflected in the disproportionate number of arrests and charges made against them in Bermuda.
“This Bill aims to rectify that as well as include other justice initiatives for education and empowerment opportunities,” he told the media.
“This is a step along the way of ending life-altering consequences including being prohibited to travelling to the United States of America and Canada, and having one’s reputation smeared and job prospects shattered due to simple possession of cannabis.
“As the statistics show black people in our society are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged and convicted for cannabis possession. This criminalisation for minor, non-violent possession is damaging for hundreds of Bermudians young and old and it must end.”
In his response, Moniz also noted legislation was passed last year that would allow the Director of Public Prosecutions to authorise police to issue a formal warning to an individual instead of charge.
“While I appreciate the PLP’s need to be seen to be leading this issue, the government has initiated a responsible and inclusive approach to the development of this important change in the law,” he said.
“Proceeding without the input of the Bermuda Police Service and the Department of Public Prosecutions would be premature and flawed.