Within the space of months Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn has repeatedly called on his parliamentary colleagues to reconsider the position on marijuana penalties and stop sending persons to prison for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Hon. Walwyn, who has spoken on the matter at various points in his two term tenure, made the call in December last year and repeated his point during the 2018 Budget debate.
Hon. Walwyn who also has responsibility for youth affairs and sports said that the penalty for having minute quantity of marijuana is affection young persons in the Territory. He said many who are arrested and charged have difficulties travelling to the neighbouring United States Virgin islands.
“I have said before and I mean this with every fiber of my being. It is time that we have the courage to look at decriminalising marijuana, small quantities of it. I’m seeing it too often, particularity with the young people who call me all the time trying to get a simple visa waiver to go to St Thomas,” Hon. Walwyn stated.
The Minister said that many young persons are unemployed because employers are reluctant to hire them because they have a record from their marijuana possession arrest. “When they see that you have a file for cannabis possession that’s the end of that. Even when you try to get a job people ain’t reading to see the fact that it was just marijuana. When they see a fine there and you have a criminal record they are treating it like it is murder. It is interfering with the job prospects and opportunities for the young people of the country,” Hon. Walwyn explained.
The Legislator also told his colleagues that sister Overseas Territory Bermuda was able to successfully deal with the situation and urged the House to consider that approach: “There are models out there. I think it was Bermuda or The Bahamas that has a very good model, rather than fining people and putting it on their criminal record, those persons who they see have a problem with substance abuse, they have to go to some sort of educational training.”
“Those are some of the type of approaches we have to take in the Territory because we are damning the lives of people for very simple things. We shouldn’t damn somebody’s life for smoking a joint. Let us try to help them and get them over that,” the Minister added.
In December Hon. Walwyn had also called on his colleagues to amend the legislation to decriminalise small quantities of marijuana. At that time he also told the House that persons arrested and charged for small possession face employment hardships: “Sometime somebody hear you went to Balsam Ghut. They don’t care what you went there for. Once they hear you went Balo… it’s very difficult to find employment for you.”
He had also explained the Bermuda approach to the Members of the House at that time. “They (Bermuda) did two important things: you wouldn’t go to prison but the prison had the right to seize the drugs, and then the regulations to the bill [has a]requirement for education on drug abuse. And that has to be the type of approach we take to the system because we are relegating too many of our young people, particularly young men, to prison.”