Politicians in Bermuda are calling for a major debate on decriminalizing cannabis, with support said to be strong in some corners of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), reports Tim Smith at The Royal Gazette.
Government Senator Walker Brown on Wednesday backed a debate on Bermuda’s marijuana laws, saying people in possession of small amounts of pot should no longer be prosecuted.
Party members David Burt and Makai Dickerson also spoke up for decrim, adding that the entire community should have a say on the issue.
|Senator Walton Brown: “People who smoke marijuana aren’t likely to go out and attack anyone”
Sen. Brown, a former drug researcher, said he is against decriminalization, but argued it is wrong to make criminals of people simply for possessing small quantities of cannabis for personal use.
Many young Bermudan men have complained of being banned from traveling to the United States for having amounts of marijuana that would not even get them into trouble if they were caught in America, Smith reports.
“We should not embrace decriminalization,” Brown said. “What we can look at is a policy so that people who are caught in possession of small amounts do not get a criminal record for that,” he told The Royal Gazette.
“People who smoke marijuana aren’t likely to go out and attack anyone,” Brown said. “I support the police taking it from them, but why bring them before the courts?”
“Let’s not criminalize the behavior of people in possession of small amounts,” Brown said.
Senator Brown, who was head researcher for the National Alcohol and Drugs Agency and the National Drug Commission from 1989 to 1994, claimed decriminalizing cannabis would send out the “wrong message” about its “harmful effects.”
“I believe that smoking anything is unhealthy,” Brown said. “I would not want to see the government introduce something that might be validating the use of marijuana.”
PLP backbencher Ashfield DeVent has said he would consider tabling a private members’ bill on the issue, saying decriminalizing all drugs would take the profit out of the illegal industry and reduce the financial rewards for gangsters.
Sen. Brown said such sentiments are well-intended, but claimed he believed an alternative solution to ending violence can be found.
“There are some who believe in decriminalization, some believe in a softer approach to policing, and some who say we should abide by the laws of society as they are,” he said.
|David Burt, PLP: “I happen to think the best way is via decriminalization”
”Speaking in my personal capacity, I think Bermuda needs to have in-depth discussion on serious issues such as this,” said Burt. “Drugs are bad, but we live in a society where people who smoke weed everyday make fun of crackheads. All drugs are bad… I happen to think the best way is via decriminalization, education, and treatment.”
“Prohibition has never worked, and there isn’t a democracy ever that has been successful with prohibition,” Burt said. “There are no good fixes to this problem; however as a society, we need to look at the best choice out of two bad options: continue as we are, or change the laws and treat substance abuse and addiction as the public health problem it is.”
“I’d prefer to put drug dealers and pushers out of business and tax consumption to pay for the treatment that our people need to break this vicious cycle of addiction,” Burt said. “I for one would like to think that Bermuda can come to the realization that what we are doing is not working and cannot work, and at least discuss the merits of a different approach.”
Dickerson, PLP organizer for the west, concurred. “I agree with the idea of the decriminalization of marijuana as the benefits of such a move outweigh the negative consequences,” he said.
“We are living in a different time than when this substance was made illegal and new facts about it have surfaced,” Dickerson said. “It is only fair to take an honest look and determine where we go with it.”