Decriminalization of drugs is a popular commodity as of late. As nations reform their drug laws and make way for 21st-century style policies, things are changing rapidly. From Finland to Jamaica, reform in the realm of drugs is being dealt out throughout legislatures and Houses of parliament all over the world. Of course, this is not happening uniformly across every continent, with Asia being the standalone that has seen very little progress in this arena.
The most recent country to adopt liberal drug policies that decriminalize possession of small quantities of drugs is the tiny island nation of Bermuda. This place is famous for its colourful beaches, British style culture, and funny shorts. But it seems that the movement that is sweeping the globe has not avoided small island nations like Bermuda.
It would appear things are moving quickly in Bermuda as a decriminalization bill passed through the House of Assembly and the Senate at the same pace. The bill seems to have support from all sides, politically speaking. The Misuses of Drugs Amendment Act 2017 (decriminalization of cannabis) removes criminal prosecution for the possession of 7 grams of cannabis or less.
However, prosecutors will still be able to lay charges for any amount of cannabis if there is evidence of potential trafficking in a given case. And of course, the police are still instructed to seize any cannabis regardless of the amount.
The Amendment was supported by the government, the opposition, and independent senators as well.
According to Progressive Labour Party MP Jason Hayward, “What we are doing is not promoting drug use and we are not encouraging young persons to use cannabis, we want to further the education regarding drug abuse in our society to protect our young persons.” Other senators commented to the fact that this was long overdue.
The amendment was tabled by Bermuda’s Minister of Social Development Zane Desilva on Friday, it’s December 8, and so far has made its way through the legislative process at lightning speed as there evidently is no opposition to this kind of reform.
The Amendment allows for the minister to make regulations that provide for substance abuse education or treatment for any person and in particular any minor found to be in possession of any amount of cannabis.
So their new plan is not unlike what is transpiring else where in the region, such as Jamaica or the Cayman Islands. They are adamant that they are not promoting the use of cannabis, but measures like these usually come before other more lenient circumstances.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in any one given political environment, but reform of this kind usually lends itself to a further loosening of drug policies.
It would not be accurate to say that Bermuda has a medical market for cannabis already, but they have stipulations under the 1972 Misuses of Drugs Act that allow under certain circumstances for individuals to use controlled drugs.
As it stands, ordinary citizens are technically able to apply for personal licenses to possess medical cannabis, due to a Supreme Court ruling. There are also guidelines to assist those who wish to make a personal application for the importation and use of cannabis, or any other controlled drug, for that matter. Under the Misuses of Drugs Act, the minister may issue a license for the importation of a controlled drug, while section 12 of the Act covers exceptions for medical purposes. Additionally, the 2014 Cannabinoid Pharmaceutical Products Act amended the drug legislation to allow the minister to remove drugs from the prohibited schedule on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.
The minister (of health) can decline an application and unfortunately has readily been doing so. Many people with cancer have been asking for increased access to medical cannabis, but the minister is clearly of the view that the law did not permit such a thing. However, once a doctor prescribes it for a patient, the minister would be hard-pressed not to follow through on the recommendation.
Maybe this decriminalization Amendment is the first step in increasing access to those who need it. Or at least is a part of an effort to not criminalize those with illnesses that have gone outside the law to treat their conditions. Either way, things are loosening up in Bermuda. It’s not quite like Portugal, where all drugs are decriminalized, but it’s a start.