Crime and punishment

    This is part 2 of a 4 part series on the implications of marijuana on our society

Our present stance on cannabis has created a black market intent on fulfilling demand that is consuming our island and causing our crime rates to soar.  Further we seem intent on attacking the problems at the surface while ignoring the root causes.  Even worse we maintain a punishment scheme for users which outweighs the actual crime.  It risks taking otherwise good people and turning them towards crime and effectively punishes those who are self medicating or are victims of abuse that should actually be seeking help.  It makes little sense that crime is our great worry and yet we still hold a stance that makes things worse and not better.  Perhaps it is time we revisit this decision and figure out if there are ways to discourage use but not allow it to get so out of hand we create worse problems in the process.

Cannabis prohibition has created a black market rivaling that which which we saw in the US in the ‘20s with alcohol prohibition.  Gangs capitalized on a nascent demand for alcohol and found ways to supply it at great profit.  These profits gave rise to gangsters who, fueled by alcohol smuggling profits, branched out to other areas of crime.  It was not long before profits were so lucrative gangs felt it necessary to protect their interests.  Guns and gang wars proliferated until petty thieves felt the need to equip and protect themselves and the incidents of gun crimes rose to startling prominence.  Does this sound familiar?

Contrary to popular belief, those smoking cannabis aren’t the true problem for our society, it’s those who sell and distribute for profit.  Yet the more we ‘crack down’, the higher the profits go.  The higher the profits, the more stake criminal elements have in its distribution meaning people are more anxious to ‘protect’ themselves and their interests.  Thus we see more guns on the island which filters out to others not dealing drugs who now feel they need guns to protect themselves as well.  So now we’re seeing increasing incidents of gun related violence and Bermuda descending further and further into anarchy.  It is a vicious cycle that spirals ever further down unless we do something real to stop the problems closer to the root.

We need to recognize and deal with the problems at their core.  Inherently individuals are turning to cannabis regardless of laws against it.  They do so for recreational purposes, they do so to self medicate or they do so out of psychological addiction.  The recreationalists are going to do it as long as it the rewards outweigh the risks and really, recreationalists aren’t our problem.  Those turning to cannabis to self medicate or suffer from addiction are a problem as they should be seeking proper help but instead could be scared away or reluctant to do so.  Thus demand never changes, we don’t solve the root problems and profits for smugglers and distributors continue to rise, especially as we ‘crack down’ on supply.

Further we are intent on maintaining a punishment scheme for users which outweighs the actual crime.  It is so bad there is a rather sick joke around the island that you’re more likely to be punished worse for smoking a spliff than you are for killing someone.  This is the perception people hold on our streets, that people are more likely to get away with murder than they are with using cannabis.  One act has severe consequences for our society, the other does not.  Is this the message we truly want to be sending?  Where are our priorities?   

It is rather shocking that an individual caught with a small amount of cannabis can be given a criminal record and black listed from travelling to the US.  Sure the argument stands that an individual should understand and accept the consequences of their actions but the punishment is extreme.  The result?   You may well be an otherwise upstanding citizen who breaks no other laws and suddenly you’re marked.  You could face travel restrictions limiting your ability to get training abroad or have a job that requires travel.  You could face discrimination with regards to employment, making it hard for you to have a job.  You could become more likely to give up on society and turn towards crime.  All this for a crime that is about as damaging to others as jaywalking.  It does not make sense.

We are fueling crime with our policies and seem intent on ignoring the root causes while tackling the low hanging fruits.  Our present stance on cannabis has created a black market that is causing our crime rates to soar.  Further we’re only attacking the problems at the surface while maintaining a punishment scheme that outweighs the crime.  We need to focus on actually solving problems, not paying lip service to them.  It makes little sense that as crime is our great worry we still hold a stance that makes things worse and not better.  Perhaps it is time we revisit this decision and figure out if there are ways to discourage use but not allow it to get so out of hand we create worse problems in the process.

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7 thoughts on “Crime and punishment

  1. You’ve hit the nail right on the head.
    I think it’s a generally agreed idea that it’s safer to have a legal and regulated trade in something than an informal backstreet trade. Thats why liqour and cigarettes are all under government regulation, the government can set age limits, can decide who,when or where it can be sold and can even ensure that help for addicts is readily available. What kind of street corner dealer is going to tell an addict that they can’t buy anymore? That they need to go get help? None. Realisitically neither would a buisness though UNLESS it would be directly responsible under the law for doing so and in a regulated market such laws would be possible.
    I’d say we can also all agree that over the table retailers aren’t going to be involved in the level of criminal activity that drug dealers would be (other than the selling of drugs) e.g. the Marketplace isen’t going to go shoot up Miles because they’re in competition. Therefore by driving cannabis underground we have simply ended up increasing crime levels just like the prohibition of alcohol. Which was a resounding failure on all fronts.
    This paragraph basically sums up the exact effects the drug industry is having on Bermuda:
    “Contrary to popular belief, those smoking cannabis aren’t the true problem for our society, it’s those who sell and distribute for profit. Yet the more we ‘crack down’, the higher the profits go. The higher the profits, the more stake criminal elements have in its distribution meaning people are more anxious to ‘protect’ themselves and their interests. Thus we see more guns on the island which filters out to others not dealing drugs who now feel they need guns to protect themselves as well. So now we’re seeing increasing incidents of gun related violence and Bermuda descending further and further into anarchy. It is a vicious cycle that spirals ever further down unless we do something real to stop the problems closer to the root.”
    Thats an important side of it that needs to be brought up again and again because thats the reality. Prohibition hasn’t worked and it’s time to accept that and move forward.
    The entire approach to cannabis control is a complete oxymoron.
    Public awarness campaigns attempt to cut demand -> They don’t succeed, cannabis use has actually increased not decreased -> The police tries to cut supply by tackling dealers -> Prices rise as supply falls and it becomes more profitable to be dealing -> Youth who for whatever reason have turned towards crime become involved in the trade because of the lure of money -> Young Bermudians die
    Legalise, regulate and tax. Whether the money is spent on education and healthcare or simply funding the regulation of the market it doesn’t matter. We will have moved forward and taken the trade out of the backstreets and into the public light. Where it can be properly monitered. Therefore taking the profit away from criminals.
    I completly agree that the punishment for users in Bermuda is ridiculous. Many American states hae gone the way of decriminalisation for small amounts which is a major step forward but, it’s still not enough. It doesn’t actually tackle the problem, only injects a small bit of fairness into a failed and archaic cannabis control regime.

  2. J Galt,
    Can you clarify what you mean by the ‘same stance’? I’m uncertain as to how you’ve interpreted my piece and do not want to unnecessarily confuse my position.
    To be clear, I do not feel it is beneficial to penalize victims of drugs, regardless of the drug. If anything we need to encourage and not deter these individuals to seek proper trained and qualified help as often these individuals are self medicating using drugs when they should be receiving proper medication suited to their actual issues.
    I specifically highlight cannabis because I suspect it has far greater volume and demand than other drugs. This volume and demand significantly fuels the black market and steps that can be taken towards attacking black market profits that cause greater problems in our society are worth considering.
    It is important to note that I am not advocating straight up ‘Legalize, regulate and tax’ in this piece. I feel this is a very important and controversial topic that cannot be covered in one sentence alone and thus in pieces 3 and 4 of this series I will be covering my positions on the control of cannabis.

  3. JGalt
    “Denis do you have the same stance on other drugs? I.E. Cocaine, Meth, etc…
    your argument would apply to those as well correct?”
    Where cannabis has been shown to have effects at least equal to if not less than Tobacco and/or alcohol on health those other drugs have not. Those other drugs are also not used on the same scale as cannabis in Bermuda.
    While on one hand it could be argued that if you legalise cannabis then the next logical step would be the legalisation of other drugs if they were to cause crime problems I don’t think it is fair to apply the same argument to those situations. Cannabis’ health effects and rate of dependency are far lower. I think it would be interesting to explore if people are more receptive to “scare” campaigns directed at the harder drugs or if either users or suppliers can be effectivly targeted. If not then I would have to agree with the general idea of where I think you’re coming from but, I think that the two situations are different and must be approached differently.
    That would be my opinion anyway

  4. Cannabis is an annual, dioecious, flowering herb. The leaves are palmately compound or digitate, with serrate leaflets. The first pair of leaves usually have a single leaflet, the number gradually increasing up to a maximum of about thirteen leaflets per leaf(usually seven or nine), depending on variety and growing conditions. At the top of a flowering plant, this number again diminishes to a single leaflet per leaf. The lower leaf pairs usually occur in an opposite leaf arrangement and the upper leaf pairs in an alternate arrangement on the main stem of a mature plant.
    Cannabis normally has imperfect flowers, with staminate “male” and pistillate “female” flowers occurring on separate plants. It is not unusual, however, for individual plants to bear both male and female flowers.

  5. You’ve hit the nail right on the head.
    I think it’s a generally agreed idea that it’s safer to have a legal and regulated trade in something than an informal backstreet trade. Thats why liqour and cigarettes are all under government regulation, the government can set age limits, can decide who,when or where it can be sold and can even ensure that help for addicts is readily available. What kind of street corner dealer is going to tell an addict that they can’t buy anymore? That they need to go get help? None. Realisitically neither would a buisness though UNLESS it would be directly responsible under the law for doing so and in a regulated market such laws would be possible.
    [mod: removed link to site pushing products]

  6. I think it’s a generally agreed idea that it’s safer to have a legal and regulated trade in something than an informal backstreet trade. Thats why liqour and cigarettes are all under government regulation, the government can set age limits, can decide who,when or where it can be sold and can even ensure that help for addicts is readily available. What kind of street corner dealer is going to tell an addict that they can’t buy anymore? That they need to go get help? None. Realisitically neither would a buisness though UNLESS it would be directly responsible under the law for doing so and in a regulated market such laws would be possible.

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