Column: Prime Opportunity In Cannabis Market

October 29, 2018 | 22 Comments

[Opinion column written by Ryan Robinson Perinchief]

The recent announcement by Premier David Burt that Bermuda will soon allow medical cannabis should be heralded and commended as a step in the right direction.

However, in order to be truly progressive and reap the benefits, Bermuda should get ahead of the game and legalize it entirely. From an economic standpoint, legalisation could provide jobs and create a new industry; socially, legalisation followed by affirmative action is needed to help bring some of our most disenfranchised citizens and unemployed youth back from the brink of society.

I apologise for the length of this text, but I must first outline some of the misconceptions surrounding the origin of cannabis laws, before shedding light on the Black Bermudian male experience with cannabis, and the opportunities which await to be seized.

There is a well-established consensus that the war on drugs has been a massive failure worldwide. According to the 2011 report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, prohibition has increased organized crime and failed to reduce addiction, has cost billions of taxpayer dollars and has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.

Some jurisdictions have accepted this quicker than others. Jamaica is already ramping up production to fulfil the increased demand after Canada made recreational use legal last week; Mexico is mulling whether the Uruguayan or Canadian model of legalisation would be best for them. Certainly, other Caribbean nations will soon embrace cannabis tourism, too. [Imagine the tourism boom Bermuda would experience if we were to become the first island in the region to allow recreational cannabis!] And while entrepreneurs in the United States and Canada are setting up shop to cash in on a cannabis industry predicted to grow to 57 billion in the next ten years, hundreds of young black men – our most vulnerable, marginalised, and unemployed demographic – have been rejected by society here for doing the exact same thing.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Oct 29 2018 3

How We Got Here: Race, Crime, and ‘Reefer Madness’

There are many theories as to why cannabis came to be so feared and criminalised by the West in the past century. One reason is that owners of pharmaceutical companies were worried that they could not standardise medical cannabis dosages or control the growth of the plant. Prior to this, there were no restrictions on the sale or use of cannabis, and ‘hemp’ was widely used in the United States for medicine, clothing, and paper – overtaking cotton as a cash crop shortly after the abolition of slavery. Another wealthy media mogul and politician, Randolph Hearst, was concerned about the effect of the hemp industry on his timber investments. The list could go on, but none of them are based on any scientific evidence linking the use of the drug to increased violence or serious threats to health.

Ultimately, the beginning of the war against cannabis came somewhere around the year 1930 – when a man by the name of Harry J. Anslinger became director of a new department in the United States known as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. And, as the “prohibition” [the period where all alcohol was banned across the USA] ended in 1933, Anslinger very quickly turned to cannabis as his next target.

Anslinger and his FBN launched an extensive campaign against cannabis by falsely linking it with criminality and piggybacking off the racial tensions of the day. In fact, the whole reason cannabis came to be referred to as “marijuana” was because the newspapers of the above-mentioned Randolph Hearst had associated the word with the unwanted surge in Mexican immigrants, who came to the US after the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and referred to the plant as “marihuana”. At the same time,southern politicians labelled them the “Mexican and marijuana menace”, whilst political messaging associated ‘reefer madness’ and crime with the blacks. As part of his campaign, Anslinger claimed:

  • “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
  • “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

And so, the origins of laws criminalising cannabis are largely based not on any scientific health evidence or actual crime, but in corporate interests, racial stereotypes and fearmongering of the days in which they were enacted – right down to the very man who first drafted the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. As director of the Bureau which served as a precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration and Nixon and Reagan, Anslinger – with the power to shape entire drug policy based on his own prejudices against immigrants and racial minorities – remained in his role for over three decades, leaving a legacy of mass incarceration and mass hysteria in his wake, now referred to as the New Jim Crow.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Oct 29 2018 2

The Case of Bermuda

Although our own Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 emulated a similar act passed in the UK [which in turn followed a 1971 UN Convention in the same year that Nixon declared the “War on Drugs”], the racial origins and misinformation of American Drug Policy seem to have been directly mirrored here in Bermuda:

In the 2012 Labour Force Survey, Blacks and non-whites represented 54% of the population; yet blacks represent 90% of the prison population – with 60% of those incarcerated having been convicted of drug-related offences. Some of these convictions stemmed from racial profiling in stop and searches, whereby of 17,000 stop and searches recorded by 2011, 90% were males and 85% were black.

This is despite the fact that nearly all reports conducted on drug use in Bermuda and in similar countries reveal that whites and blacks use cannabis at nearly identical rates. The demand for cannabis is equal, but the enforcement of it is not – resulting in swathes of young black men on stop lists, criminal registers, and shut out of traditional employment. Most of these young men are not the criminal masterminds at the top of the illegal distribution chain; they are the low hanging fruit at the bottom. In a majority black population, we do not have the American luxury of ignoring the impact of this disaster by simply isolating it to a minority population or subcommunity. Surely this fact alone should be enough for us to realise that measures are needed to reverse these impacts.

The 2017 shift toward decriminalisation provided token relief to small-time buyers and users, but is too little, too late: it does nothing to disrupt demand and importation, and we are already decades down the road of mass incarceration, stop and searches, stop lists, and drug-fuelled gang violence to remedy this situation by merely halting the deepening of this very long knife in the wound.

To truly remedy this situation, we must adopt a progressive and redistributive justice-based approach which seeks not only to prevent the creation of more offenders, but also reverse the effects of our disastrous impact. That’s why in Seattle, Washington, not only has cannabis been legalised, but judges have also voted to expunge the criminal records of more than 500 marijuana offenders. The State of California is doing the same, and has even launched affirmative action programs for ‘marijuana entrepreneurs’ to gain access to the market. Alaska is allocating its marijuana tax revenue to a ‘Recidivism Reduction Fund’. What if government’s recently proposed ‘redemption farm’ for chickens was slightly altered – so that those who have been convicted of cannabis offences, and other unemployed locals, were someday allowed to find new purpose through business opportunities in a legitimate cannabis industry?

Despite some of the initial reluctance to embrace giving opportunities to persons who were once labelled ‘criminal’, these approaches are nothing radical or unheard of. They are simply aligned with emerging principles of restorative justice – which focuses not on locking up people and throwing away the key, but actually dealing with offenders in a way which brings the best chance for rehabilitation and a resolution which benefits society at large. Commendably, Premier Burt hinted at this same concept, but we must push to ensure legalisation becomes a matter of urgency, and crucially, that access be guaranteed to those most affected so they are not once again thrown into the void.

In looking at the flip side, while we stubbornly refuse to accept that we have caused more harm by conducting this war on cannabis than by just legalising it, we must remember that we are also propping up an entire black-market industry. Yes, a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee already acknowledged in 2011 that the sale of illegal drugs in Bermuda is fuelling gang activities, which have directly contributed to the increase in violence and the spawn of the 2-decade long ‘wave’ of gun crime we have been so outraged about.

And thus, it turns out that after all, the biggest concern over the link between cannabis and crime is not that the plant itself leads to violence, but that the prohibition of it on an island where it is in such high demand literally gives criminal organisations a complete monopoly on the drug trade. What hypocrites, we are! Keeping it illegal forcibly intertwines the sale of marijuana with more dangerous drugs and gangs’ profit-making activities, therefore contributing to more gang violence whilst shutting law-abiding citizens out of the market.

Ryan Robinson Perinchief Bermuda Oct 29 2018 1

Making Things Right: Facing Reality and Seizing Opportunity

As a small, wealthy, developed nation with such a high usage of cannabis per capita, Bermuda could be the vanguard of the legal cannabis industry. So it is unfortunate that, whilst so quick to embrace fintech, alcohol and casino gaming, we seem determined to miss the ball on such a game-changing industry as this.

The Cannabis Reform Collaborative stated in its report that 54% of the 1,090 respondents voted for legalization, with 27% choosing decriminalisation, 13% favouring only medical use, and less than 7% selecting nothing else or other.

Any remaining opponents who believe that legalising cannabis would lead to a wave of increased use and addiction are, quite respectfully, out of the loop. One only need only to look at the status quo to realise that the current situation couldn’t get much worse: 46% of Bermuda college students reported lifetime cannabis use. For grades M2 through S4, this figure was nearly 1 in 4. And Bermuda is already ranked #8 for countries with the highest rates of cannabis use overall.

Furthermore, older generations within the PLP especially should understand that it is their own grandchildren who suffer most from prohibition. The cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana is already widespread in Bermuda – and for some of our young black males, it is sadly the only thing they are passionate about. I have no regrets about making such a strong claim: As a black male myself, I have witnessed first-hand its use among our demographic as a mental escape due to feelings of disenfranchisement and defeat, from adolescence right up to adulthood. [Notwithstanding the fact that there are still many who simply use it recreationally and not as an unhealthy escape from reality.]

So no, I am not ignorant to the social ills and negative effects of dependence on the drug. I am arguing that this current approach of forcing cannabis use into the hidden abyss of the criminal underworld is making the problem worse.

Legalising cannabis would allow us to remove the stigma and social exclusion surrounding ‘marijuana’ and have realistic conversations on why it is so heavily abused; replace the dangerous strains and spiked/laced mixtures with a safer and regulated product; and simultaneously give healthy, casual users and otherwise law-abiding citizens the opportunity to become productive members of society in a legitimate industry.

In Conclusion

Cannabis is not going away any time soon; in fact, it will only get more prevalent, everywhere. This means that the decision to be made is not whether or not we want it used here, but how we respond to the current failures, and who we want to reap the benefits of it.

After thousands of convictions for persons doing something no more harmful than smoking a cigarette or drinking alcohol, decades of wasted taxpayer dollars, and countless profits for illegal organisations, we have a prime opportunity here: to create a new industry and provide jobs to our most at-risk demographic, killing two birds with one stone; to redirect funds to education and social services, and shift enforcement to more harmful drugs and crime; to discuss mental health and the causes of our abnormally high usage rates; and ultimately, to make things right for all the tourists, locals, medical patients, unemployed, disenfranchised black Bermudian men, and everyone else who has fallen victim to this flawed, outdated and hypocritical system of cannabis prohibition.

The tides are turning – around the world, a new, legal, cannabis industry is getting ready to take off. If we fail to adapt and be proactive now, we will find ourselves hopelessly chasing this train in a few years – after other countries have already gained the first-mover advantage. We now have a chance to make things right for our most vulnerable citizens, and profit at the same time. We ought not get left behind.

- Ryan Robinson Perinchief is studying law at Durham University in the UK. He graduated with triple honours from the Berkeley Institute, where he served as Head Boy, Student Council, and a Peer Mediator. A former Youth Premier of the island’s Youth Parliament, he won the Alpha Beautillion, an Outstanding Teen Award, and the best youth submission to the SAGE Commission. Ryan is also the founder and director of the Future Leaders Programme. Views expressed are in his personal capacity.

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Comments (22)

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  1. The wisdom of youth is often faulty . But they won’t know that until they are older . Taking smoke into the body is not healthy . Showing up high for work , just means another day off . Much study has truly made you mad . You can’t fly when you’re high . This new move by the PLP will not work for the future well being of Bermuda . AS THE FOREIGNERS SAY TO THEIR CHILDREN , ” IT’s JUST FOR THE BERMUDIANS . “

    • Smh says:

      Did you bother to read the article? People will smoke even if it’s legal or not. Get off your high horse

    • Well that means most of the World leaders are high because they are F!@#ing the world up by their greed and racist policies which is causing some people to medicate themselves.
      Especially Agent Orange whose supporters sent bombs to people he cries down, went in a Kroger store and killed the first Black people he saw after he went to a Black Church and couldnt get in and went in a Synagogue and killed 11 worshipers.
      Go for it young man and a very well dissertation, and this is the same guy that commented about a young lady who was called to the Bar that her success is not fulfilled unless she opens her own law firm.
      Instead of giving praise to the exemplary effort these two young people achieved, he criticizes them.
      And thats a form of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome were we do and say things to destroy each other, but praise those or be silent to those who oppress us. So we critisize those who we call social misfits and to those who are a shining light in society. More people have been killed on our roads by being drunk then being high.
      F!@#ing PATHETIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      These turncoats are a disgrace to their Ancestors and people.

    • Sorry Sir says:

      What a foolish argument.
      I’d assume that being high would face the same social norms as alcohol.

      Most people don’t show up drunk to work, but they drink alcohol.
      I’d assume the same for being high.

      You can’t fly when your drunk, neither.

      Although I can’t see work socials be filled with people smoking marijuana any time soon, like they do with alcohol.

      Not entirely sure what point you’re trying to make with your post so I’m just going to assume it’s not a good one.

    • Sad says:

      It’s people like you who need to wake up and smell the coffee or should I say loud

  2. inna says:

    Rodney, i propose this to you:

    “The wisdom of OLD AGE is often faulty . But they won’t know that until they LIGHTEN UP . Taking ALCOHOL into the body is not healthy . Showing up HUNGOVER for work , just means another day off . Much study has truly made you mad . You can’t DRIVE when you’re DRUNK . This new move by the PLP will not work for the future well being of Bermuda . AS THE FOREIGNERS SAY TO THEIR CHILDREN , ” IT’s JUST FOR THE BERMUDIANS . “

    • 18 Year Old says:

      There are actually proven benefits of moderate alcohol there places in the world where drink alcohol everyday and have the highest life expectancy. Too much alcohol is the problem. Marijuana just slows you down and doesn’t help you to do anything. I dont care what you do with your body you could drink gas, diesel, bleach with a side of fentonyl for all I care just stay out of my business. If somebody can show up to work high or drunk and be 100 times more productive and efficient and it not ruining a companies reputation, who cares.

  3. Jack Tail says:

    this is just a dressed up way around legalizing weed without unsetting the churches under the guise of “medical use” the percentage of folks using for medical use is very small … weed island and getting more drugs into the young folks and the community more bull

    • pabear says:

      you need a doctor for that foot in mouth and head up a$$ disease you have in most places where cannabis is been legalize the biggest increase in use is in 30 to 50 year old for they put age restriction on the young and in most case the legal cannabis is 3 time more expensive than illegal so the young can’t afford it

  4. Carlton says:

    they dont have the same progressive thought on marriage equality

  5. Ringmaster says:

    I’ve got bad news for Ryan. To cultivate cannabis that is suitable for medical purposes you need special facilities. Who’s going to pay for that? It’s not like planting a few plants in the yard. Do some research. Further Bermuda’s population is too small to support a commercial operation and cannot compete with other suppliers. It will be far cheaper to buy the small quantities needed here from abroad.
    Focus attention on pardoning those who have a conviction for possession of small amounts would be a more beneficial start. The Rehab of Offenders Act only needs a small amendment, so why isn’t that done?

    • sage says:

      His point wasn’t proposing medical cannabis only but making the plant legal, preferably removed from the ‘drug schedule’, medicinal plants have been grown outside in the sun and soil for eons and for free, the greedy capitalists of today want to complicate the issue to make it profitable for themselves and promote legislation to limit regular folks while they rake in the millions from their massive operations. Fully erasing records for cannabis convictions, renumeration and a sincere apology would be the right thing to do.

      • Question says:

        At this point they’re too busy spending our scarce resources trying to restrict human rights for some people in the community. That’s much more urgent.

      • Real Deal says:

        i would not call it greedy because we need the money it will generate. just got to make sure we spread the may-o evenly. if your bread is already buttered wait to the back out of the line so someone else get get a little something on their bread.

        • sage says:

          “We” need the money? Government could save millions by ending this human rights atrocity and they don’t deserve to make money after treating good people as criminals for decades.

  6. Spanky says:

    I’ve always thought we should invite people to enjoy Bermuda and to “smoke local”. You can’t import it or export it but while you’re on the island you can smoke as much as you’d like (with the same conditions applied to alcohol regarding driving etc). That would boost our tourism numbers, especially if we had quality weed or a unique Bda Bud.

    Won’t happen of course.

  7. Kat says:

    No surprise that the laws were developed based on the financial gain and racist practices of wealthy whites. But hasn’t the research on the effects of use now caught up with the laws? How will legalising it affect the demographic of users? Cigarette and alcohol use are illegal for our still developing kids. Would legal cannabis – either the use of or business of – have an age restriction? Would possessing/consuming/supplying it to someone under age still be a crime? If so, with what penalties? And how do these same ‘entrepreneurial’ arguments not apply to the “more harmful drugs” which would still be controlled by the “underworld”. A very well thought out and planned piece of writing. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

    • sage says:

      Remind me of the penalties the bar that served underaged Rebecca Middleton and her friend liquor received, or when the youth reporter went to every liquor store in town and was sold a bottle in every one, no questions asked. What is the penalty for selling cancer sticks to underaged kids? The research has showed there is no scientific or health reason to prohibit cannabis and the laws are unconstitutional. There should be an age restriction, unless the child has a medical need. You should be more concerned with over-diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and drugging children, including toddlers, with dangerous stimulants like adderall and ritalin.

    • Retro says:

      The simplicity of marijuana is that it grows everywhere and anywhere. Its only people that complicate it.

  8. accurate says:

    Very well said Ryan and pay no heed to the detractors spouting yesterdays ideas. They might as well try and stop the tide turning.

  9. Question says:

    How does the statistic that ‘90% of people stopped and searched were males’ have anything to do with ‘racial profiling’?

  10. Legalize it... says:

    Decriminalization and legalizing personal amounts of marijuana would do wonders for our tourism product. Hurry before our island competitors take the lead…

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