Good morning and thank you for joining me.
Today, I wish to formally announce the launch of a Public Awareness Campaign on the Decriminalisation of Cannabis, or ‘marijuana’, as it is often called. Last week we started the campaign by airing public service announcements over the radio. You will soon see and hear other forms of communication such as social media messages and newspaper ads, all of which are designed to inform the public about the recent legislative amendment to decriminalize simple possession of cannabis.
What exactly has been decriminalized, when and why? Let me explain.
The intent of this Government to decriminalize cannabis was clearly stated in the September 2017 Speech from the Throne. Following passage by the Legislature, the Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 came into effect on 20 December 2017.
It is very important to recognize that cannabis remains a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1972. The Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 does NOT legalize the use of cannabis in Bermuda.
What the Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 actually did, was to remove criminal offences for the simple possession by any person of 7 grams or LESS of cannabis. The Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 does NOT make it legal for a person to consume, cultivate, traffic or import cannabis in any quantity.
The benefit of the decriminalisation of cannabis is that a person cannot be subjected to criminal prosecution for simple possession of 7 grams or less of cannabis. It is our hope and our belief that taking this important action will help to prevent more young black men from being placed on the proverbial “stop list” and have their lives completely altered by virtue of not being able to travel to the United States to pursue further education or to seek other opportunities.
However, it is important to understand that The Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalisation of Cannabis) Amendment Act 2017 does NOT provide any guarantee that a person will not be stopped when attempting to travel to the United States of America for any reason, including if that person already has a prior conviction for simple possession of cannabis. Such matters are outside of the control of the Government of Bermuda.
Let me restate, the Amendment Act does NOT erase prior criminal convictions in connection with cannabis that were in effect before the Act came into force.
With regard to minors, it is not our intent to remove parental responsibility, which must remain in the hands of parents, who, using their best judgment and the best information that is available to them, should provide guidance to their children regarding substance use and misuse. However, the Amendment Act provides the Minister of Social Development and Sports with the power to make regulations in relation to substance abuse education or treatment for any person, and in particular a minor, who is found to possess any amount of cannabis.
In addition to what I have already mentioned, the public should take note that under the Amendment Act, a police officer of any rank has the lawful authority to seize any amount of cannabis in the possession of any person. Thus, the Amendment Act does not diminish the power of the police to seize cannabis from any person, including young persons, as currently provided for under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1972.
In parallel with efforts to raise public awareness on decriminalisation of cannabis, Government will continue to raise education awareness in relation to health risks associated with substance abuse in adolescents.
I also wish to advise the public that the Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed that the Caution Policy that was issued by him in February 2017 regarding simple possession of less than 3 grams of cannabis no longer has effect.
The Ministry has produced a Public Awareness Fact Sheet which is available on the Government portal at www.gov.bm.