By Phillip Smith
Newly appointed Bermuda Attorney General Mark Pettingill is calling for a debate about reforming the island nation's marijuana laws. But he has stopped short of advocating any particular change, instead merely saying it is time for a discussion.
Pettingill, who took office after elections last month, had previously called in Parliament for the country to "get real" when it comes to acknowledging that marijuana smoking is as popular as drinking alcohol. But he told the Royal Gazette that didn't mean he was advocating legalization or even decriminalization.
"When I say 'get real' that doesn't necessarily mean making fundamental changes but we have to have some review of the legal position as it relates particularly to marijuana," the attorney general said, noting that current policy calls for warnings for small-time pot possession, but that that is not enshrined in law. "This is really turning a blind eye rather than legalizing it, and having things defined in law is good --- otherwise you can ask why is one person being prosecuted and someone else not."
When the Gazette pressed Pettingill, he spoke like the practicing attorney he has been for the past two decades, saying he could "argue both ends."
He then reiterated his call for a debate in Parliament. "I think the view is that we need to have a fully-fledged Parliamentary debate as it relates to the issue."
While calls for marijuana reform have been coming out of Bermuda for years and while Pettingill said warnings were the norm, Bermuda has also in recent years earned a reputation for harsh treatment of visiting tourists caught with small amounts of marijuana, including this case from 2010 and this one from 2011. In the latter case, a visiting American medical marijuana patient was fined $2,000 for possession of three grams.