By Phillip Smith
For Americans, mention "Bermuda" and "marijuana" and the first thing that comes to mind is a vision of vacationing cruise ship passengers arrested and fined in large amounts for carrying small quantities of the substance, like this Oakland medical marijuana patient last month or these two unfortunate tourists in April. But that could be about to change.
A mid-month meeting organized by the governing One Bermuda Alliance's youth wing, the Future Bermuda Alliance, to discuss marijuana reform drew nearly a hundred residents and supporters, including two government ministers, both of whom expressed general support for the notion.
"We're delighted with the initiative taken by the FBA and we're pleased that on a Sunday night, when there's a lot going on and people are getting ready to go to work, that there's a good turnout," said Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley. "This is a very difficult subject to discuss because people seem to be either in one camp or the other. It's great that the FBA has put it on so that people can put their opinion out there."
The administration is paying attention, Dunkley told the crowd.
"This government made it very clear that we will look at this subject and so this type of discussion with a cross section of Bermuda's society helps us determine the position going forward. We're not afraid to tackle the difficult issues, we've shown that. And so I'm delighted to have the opportunity to come out and listen," he said.
"The people of Bermuda need to know that their government is prepared to hear them," said Education Minister Nalton Brangman. "As legislators it's important that we get the pulse, feel the pulse and appreciate how the people are feeling on every subject; this is a very good thing."
Among the panelists was yet another government figure, Junior Public Safety Minister Jeff Baron, the Rev. Dr. Ernest Peets, Chewstick Movement leader Najib Chentouf, and former Pennsylvania marijuana activist and now Bermuda's go-to man on marijuana policy, attorney Alan Gordon.
In addition to comments from the panelists, the event also provided a forum for public feedback on the marijuana laws, and the sense of the attendees was clear from the comments.
"Alcohol hasn't done us much justice, we need to give marijuana a chance, maintain it, regulate --- I fully support it," said Jason Stovall, 24.
The government should use "common sense and logic" on pot policy said another man, who asked to remain anonymous. "It's a disgrace and it's a human rights atrocity for this drug war to be locking people in prison for a plant that is less harmful than the legal drugs available. What they should do is go over to KFC and stop people from eating greasy food or sitting in bars, which is ironic right now in itself," he said. "And it would be a sin to tax it once we free up the ganja to have the government benefit from it."
The meeting is a sign that Bermuda's marijuana policies could be changing soon, Gordon told the Chronicle after the event.
"The government is looking very seriously at making a change in cannabis policy and soon," he said, pointing not only to the presence of government ministers at the meeting, but also members of parliament and One Bermuda Alliance officials. "The government helped facilitate that panel to hear out citizens on their concerns on cannabis policy and where they want to see it go."
As for those cruise ship passengers, Gordon said the bad publicity generated by their Bermuda pot busts is forcing change there, as well. "People caught with non-trafficking amounts would only get a caution if compliant," he said. But he warned that judges will still be tough on people bringing large amounts, saying they "see importers as people whose activities bring crime and violence."
Things are bubbling in Bermuda. Stay tuned.