Column: Rabain On Cannabis Decriminalisation

February 4, 2017

[Opinion column written by Diallo Rabain]

Recently, while sitting in the barbershop, the topic of decriminalisation came up. As one of the newest MPs I can easily recollect recent history of knocking on doors where this topic was raised at many homes. So, I was keen to engage in the conversation to see where these young men’s minds were at on the topic.

The conversation centred around how unfairly targeted by the police they felt as black males, especially when it came to small amounts of cannabis.

Every single person knew of a friend or family member who had been subjected to prosecution in the past for “a spliff” and now found themselves on the stop list, unable to travel to the United States without a travel waiver. While the stories were different, the result was the same.

I had to agree with them on most points, especially the arrest assumptions. Data supports the fact that blacks are more disproportionately criminalized by our justice system. The most recent crimes statistics released by the Bermuda Police Department for the year 2015, show that there were 2,651 arrest made in 2015. Of these, 2,284 were black people.

In a country where black people make up 60% of the population [Census 2010], they also comprised 86% of all arrests, while white persons were arrested 219 times or 8% of all arrests.

From all the numerous reports that have been written dating back to the Pitt Report in 1978 to the Mincy Report in 2009 to the OBA commissioned Cannabis Reform Collaboration Report in 2014, this plight of unfairly criminalising and disenfranchising our black population has been highlighted.

The Cannabis Report in 2014 went as far as to point out specifically the disproportionate impact cannabis related offences have on the black community. We must, with a degree of urgency, look at ways we can address these institutional, structural and systemic issues of racism that plague our youth. One starting point, the PLP has identified, is the decriminalisation of cannabis.

In 2014 the PLP tabled such a bill, which we were not afforded the chance to debate. In our Throne Speech Reply of 2016 we committed to seeing this through and in 2017 we will lead the way for this much-needed reform.

The discussion around cannabis and its use is a conversation that has been around for some time now. There have been studies on the topic done worldwide and as recently as April 2014, a study approved by the OBA government, The Cannabis Reform Collaborative, was conducted and presented their recommendations, one of which recommended the immediate decriminalization of up to 10 grams of cannabis.

This report was tabled in the House of Assembly and debated on May, 2014. The Premier stated during the Cannabis Report debate specifically on the report recommendation for immediate decimalization “…This is not an easy choice and in the coming weeks and months the Government will consider this policy point in detail before returning to this house with any legislative change…”

I refer to the OBA throne speeches of 2014 and 2016, which both mention that consultation is still needed in respect to this topic. The OBA response to the PLP’s announcement yesterday to table a bill to decriminalise up to 7 grams of cannabis was met by a predictable response from the Government, effectively repeating their stance for the last 3 plus years; that being, “…We need to consult more…”.

As the weeks and months since May 2014 have passed and the OBA remain in consultation mode, I think the Premier should just admit that the Government has no intention of decriminalising cannabis any time soon.

Our country needs to better utilise our limited financial and personal resources to combat crime and gang violence. Use of these resources to arrest and charge our citizens for small amounts of cannabis is not the greatest use of these resources by a longshot.

The time to fast forward past consultation has long passed and it is now time for action. Action is needed to alleviate our citizens from being criminalised for minor cannabis possession and the Bill proposed by the PLP will do just that.

While the OBA is content to continue to “consult” on this issue indefinitely, the PLP has decided enough is enough. There are already young men and women find themselves on the short end of the stick from a minor indiscretion in their youth.

These are things that we don’t need to consult anyone to know! Any politician who consistently knocks on doors and canvasses, will no doubt hear these types of stories first hand from those who are living it.

The time for endless consultation has ended and the time for action is now. This Bill to decriminalise small small amounts of is but one of many steps that is desperately needed to move toward levelling the playing field for all our citizens, especially those that feel the brunt of a system that systematically fails them.

All PLP MPs support this bill and I hope that some OBA members will vote yes and will support this reform.

- Diallo Rabain

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Comments (11)

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  1. wondering says:

    It will get bilateral support. It will not however wipe the slate clean for all past transgressions.

    Electioneering aside and race aside it is long overdue.

    Until then don’t get caught with a spliff!

    It is still illegal.

    Do it discreetly like all those who don’t get cAught!

  2. sage says:

    Decrim makes no sense and only is a stalling tactic.

    • wondering says:

      you are right. Make it legal to import as well and then you’ll be saying something.

      • inna says:

        Most people should opt to grow it as opposed to import when marijuana becomes legal here. Bermuda has ideal growing conditions for most vegetables and herbs that we consume, including cannabis.

  3. Self-informed says:

    “they also comprised 86% of all arrests, while white persons were arrested 219 times or 8% of all arrests.”

    If this issue of Cannibas reform directly affected the 8% then it would have been passed a long time ago.

  4. Ben S says:

    I am all for a gradual approach to changing the law when it pertains to cannabis. Decriminalizing small amounts is one step and it should be clearly explained to people exactly what decriminalizing means. However when it comes to statistics of arrests and racial background, a few things should be kept in mind. When gangs of young black Bermudian men began shooting and killing each other about ten years ago, the public demanded the police take action. Police action included increased patrols in the areas where shootings were taking place. With increased police patrols, there was intentional increased police interaction with young black males. It is well known how popular cannabis use amongst all races is and until such time that possession is no longer illegal, people with cannabis would be arrested. Also, the arrest stats used, are for arrests for all offenses and not just cannabis possession. Small details but let’s not give the impression that police are unfairly targeting black males. No group is unfairly targeted but at the demanding of the public, the police have and rightly so, out efforts in increased patrols in the areas where much of the gun violence takes place. Those areas often also used to be the same areas where open drug selling took place 24 hours a day.

    • sage says:

      I am all for imprisoning all of the producers, dealers, distributers, retailers and users of alcohol and tobacco, strip them of their ill-gotten gains and hold them accountable for the death and destruction they have caused profiting off of others misery and their addiction. Let them see how it feels and appreciate the urgency of ending an abhorrent practice. When it comes to ganja, everyone ever dealt with by the law, has been unfairly and unjustly targeted, and yes, some more than others. By the way, the gangs and gunplay are a direct result of making some drugs illegal, driving the prices high enough and limiting supply, it guarantees this result, but some of us think doing the same thing over and over (or gradually ending it) despite it being an absolute failure on all levels, is what we need. Ganja does not kill people like the legal alternatives we herd our youths towards, let’s return it to its natural, rightful place amongst all other plant species, immediately.

      • Zevon says:

        So you’re a hypocrite. Imprison everyone else while you get stoned.

  5. Real Deal says:

    Well one of the main reason why our blacks bother are arrested more then out white brothers is because blacks have less places to go and use it with out building caught. many of the wealthy have larges houses and have private house parties where they can relax and socialize. the poor people on the other hand have to carry it on them to go to places where they seek a few draws or they live in rented space where the get pricked on.

    I remember those hose parties back in the day they where wicked leg for days and every one was just so chill.

  6. Ben S says:

    @real, take a moment to actually think before typing. So many incorrect, fact void assumptions in your post… Oh and your use of the words ‘wealthy’ and ‘white’ as if they have the same meaning is equally disrespectful to wealthy blacks and poor whites. Believe it or not both do exist….

    • Real Deal says:

      @Ben no brah my post is logical and well thought out. when i use black and white i am talking about the percentage. I transition to using wealthy and poor to indirectly infer the following:

      The are majority of the wealthy are white.

      I could not keep using black and white because i would not be able to indirectly infer the following:

      There are rich black people that have big houses and trow house parties
      There are poor whites that have to carry their draw on them just like the poor blacks.
      There are poor whites the get pricked on as well.

      when reading my post use logic and not emotions then you will be able to see the true message.