Looking to address the unfair racial bias of cannabis enforcement, as well as the U.S.-Bermuda “Stop List,” Bermuda’s House of Assembly has passed a bill that will decriminalize marijuana if it can also gain Senate and governor approval. Although the bill was originally viewed as flawed by hesitant supporters, a revised version addressed concerns and was able to unanimously make it through the House, opening the door to a significant change in Bermuda’s drug laws. Aimed at decriminalizing the possession of cannabis up to seven ounces, the bill is expected to provide relief for overly targeted black communities that lawmakers admit have been unfairly affected by the nation’s current system of drug laws.
Although the Decriminalisation of Cannabis Bill still has to pass the Senate and get signed by Governor John Rankin, advocates of the bill are optimistic about the positive impact it will have for offenders previously subjected to strict drug laws. One of the main goals of the legislation is to provide relief for those who would otherwise be placed on the Stop List, which has caused substantial problems for Bermudians hoping to travel to the United States for things like medical care or education. As lawmakers noted, the Stop List has had a much more adverse impact on black populations, particularly for young black males who otherwise shouldn’t have a problem traveling to the U.S.
The process was also praised as an effort to address concerns brought about by a similar bill recently up for consideration in the House. Proponent David Burt of the Opposition Party pointed to a late amendment that would make drug treatment mandatory for any minor picked up for cannabis possession – a compromise aimed at addressing constituents worried about harmful effects to minors. Burt also fully supported the bill’s intention to combat a skewed system that makes it much more likely for a black citizen to be arrested for small amounts of cannabis.
The bill also drew praise from Premier Peter Dunkley, who pointed to the positive impact of Independent lawmaker Mark Pettingill. According to Dunkley, Pettingill was a crucial voice of moderation in the process and was able to find common ground on a divisive issue that would ultimately lead to unanimous support in the House. Although Dunkley was cautious in his praise of the bill, he was optimistic that the legislation will be able to stand the test of time and will have the intended impact on the most affected communities in Bermuda.
After the victorious passing of the bill in the House, the Progressive Labor Party backing the bill pointed out that it “will protect our young people from gaining unnecessary legal records.” The Decriminalisation of Cannabis Bill wasn’t the only legislation brought to the table by the PLP, however, as the House was also able to pass a bill that would cut Bermuda’s statutory interest rate in half – another maneuver that aims to assist the working-class majority. With the passing of the two bills, the PLP sent a stern warning that the political winds were shifting and that the influential OBA (One Bermuda Alliance) no longer had a mandate backed by a majority of Bermudians.
Even though the cannabis bill could still face hurdles in the Senate, the unanimous passage of the bill will likely put significant pressure on lawmakers to follow through with the will of the House of Assembly. If it does pass the Senate and is signed by Governor Rankin, the date for implementation is expected to be June 30th, which means we could get an expedited glimpse into how the bill will change drug enforcement throughout the country. Like in many territories around the world, Bermuda seems to simply be just the latest country making significant headway in combating draconian drug laws and drug sentencing that have become driving issues for cannabis legalization advocates.