FRIDAY, JUNE 10: Punishments dished out to petty drug users for cannabis possession may not ‘fit the crime’, National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief has conceded.

He said lawmakers may need to rethink the strict approach to possession offences amid fears that too many young people are ending up on the US stop list for minor drug offences.

“The biggest social impact, other than the health issue, is the criminalization of people using small amounts of the drug.

“It can have a great impact on their lives in terms of being a prohibition to them travelling.

“The punishment that comes out of that is sometimes disproportionate to the crime.

“We would all like for people not to engage in the criminal behaviour of smoking drugs – it’s a health issue as well.

“But I think we need to look at alternatives to incarceration and alternatives to the judicial system when it comes to small amounts of certain drugs.”

The US currently has a policy of blocking visa applications from Bermudians with any type of drug conviction — including a conditional discharge.

Mr Perinchief believes that makes for a double punishment for Bermudians compared with their peers in other jurisdictions. He said authorities in the US and the UK were starting to take a more relaxed approach to cannabis possession.
And he believes it is time for Bermuda to consider easing up.

His comments represent a change in approach from previous National Security Minuster Colonel David Burch who criticized the use of marijuana in Bermuda, which he said had reached ‘epidemic’ proportions.

Colonel Burch told the Bermuda Sun in January last year that he had instructed police to take a more aggressive approach on cannabis and said he would resign from politics if the PLP supported decriminilisation.

Former senator Burch has since quit the political scene for different reasons and the decriminilisation movement is gaining credence within the party.

Last week MP Marc Bean argued for a debate on the merits of decriminalizing drugs in the aftermath of a report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Global report

The report, written by an influential panel including former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, recommended the legalization of some drugs as a potential solution to the blight of the drug trade on communities across the globe.

It concluded that the war on drugs had failed by fuelling organized crime, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and causing thousands of deaths.

Mr Perinchief said global opinion on tackling drug related crime was starting to shift.

But he said the debate on whether or not to legalise drugs would have to be led by the larger countries, like the US and the European Union.

“I think Governments at an international level need to start having that conversation around different ways of dealing with the drug issue, potentially looking at it as a health problem.

“I think the smaller nations will have to take their lead from the larger countries on that…

“Most people recognize that cannabis is the most widely used illegal substance in Bermuda and for us the discussion should start there.”