The Atlantic resort destination of Bermuda announced this week that it is beginning a campaign to fight an "epidemic" of marijuana use among young people. While the freshly-minted effort is conceived of primarily as an anti-marijuana propaganda effort, it fits hand-in-glove with the Bermudan government's policy of targeting cruise ship visitors to the island nation.
"Marijuana use is an epidemic. It is time we faced facts about marijuana and what it is doing to our youth," Health Minister Patrice Minors told the Royal Gazette. "We as a community need to discredit the current misconceptions surrounding marijuana and increase awareness and information regarding its effect on people." Leading the campaign will be the National Drug Commission, the country's lead agency in setting drug policy. Typical of the commission's "information" is the now discredited charge that marijuana is a "gateway" drug. Commission chairman Rev. Andrew Doughty took advantage of the new campaign announcement to reiterate that legalizing marijuana would be "misguided," the Gazette reported.
While the Progressive Labor Party government officially opposes marijuana legalization, it has implicitly recognized the herb's pervasive use. Its Criminal Code Amendment Act, passed last year, instructs courts to use imprisonment as a last option for drug users. The majority of drug arrests in Bermuda are for marijuana, according to the commission. And even within the governing party, voices have risen in support of legalization. Minister-at-Large Ashfield DeVent and Deputy Premier Ewart Brown have both called for either decriminalization or legalization in the past two years.
But enforcing the marijuana laws can be a lucrative affair -- especially against foreign tourists. As the Gazette reported in June, cruise ship passengers to Bermuda, who are primarily US residents, are routinely fined $1,000 for possession of a joint. Bermudan Narcotics Chief Superintendent Larry Smith bragged to the Gazette about using drug-sniffing dogs as often as possible to snare unwary vacationers. Smith justified the dog searches as part of the effort against large-scale smugglers, but could point to no major cruise ship busts this year.
Smith, however, had a fallback justification: the safety of tourists. "There's a loss of coordination," he said of pot-smoking visitors. "They could be subjected to sexual assault or robbery or even to the most heinous crime -- murder. A short term fix could damage Bermuda's reputation as a tourism destination."
But then so could slapping a $1,000 fine on someone with a joint. And by the way, you get excluded from Bermuda for two years. But who would want to go back?