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Penn tells parliament: Decriminalize marijuana

Marlon Pen

Marlon Pen

By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff

Junior Minister of Trade Marlon Penn today broke a long held silence in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) parliament when he implored the government to decriminalize the use of marijuana, adding that he does not support legalization at this time.

Penn, who was making his contribution to the 2017 Budget Debate in the House of Assembly, stated that he wants marijuana decriminalized because too many young users are ending up with criminal records.

Criminal records, Penn reasoned, have caused many young people to have a tough time finding jobs.

Offenders imprisoned for marijuana also often continue a cycle of imprisonment, the second-term government lawmaker further claimed.

He told Premier Dr D Orlando Smith that now is the time to start talking about alternative sentencing in relation to marijuana offences.

“The whole issue of alternative sentencing; that is something that we need to look at premier. We need to seriously – as legislators – look at the decriminalization of marijuana; that is a conversation that we need to have. We are sending our young men to jail for a drug.”

“Too many of our young men are getting criminal records; they are getting lost in the system. It’s like a revolving door. Once you get up Balsam Ghut [where the prison is located], it’s like you can’t get out; you spend two months there and then you are back,” Penn said.

He continued: “We see a viscous cycle; we see the names – they get caught up with weed or something. They end up in the prison – and then there is a constant revolving; and then they come back in [prison] for some other crime – some other problem.”

Penn, in the meantime, noted that Jamaica and other countries have decriminalized marijuana because they do not think it makes economic sense to criminalize young people merely for marijuana.

“I am not talking about legalization at this time. But, from a point of view of decriminalization, we need to have that conversation about. Jamaica just decriminalized marijuana in Jamaica,” Penn noted.

He continued: “I did some research. If you look at the countries around the world – First World countries [and] second world countries – all of these nations have decriminalized it because they realized that economically it doesn’t make sense.”

Penn also appealed for more opportunities to be created especially for young men with criminal records in construction and other industries.

Lawmakers in this British Overseas Territory have been ducking calls by a handful of local advocates for marijuana to be decriminalized or legalized.

Journalists, during a press briefing this month, raised the issue again with Premier Smith.

The premier disclosed that members of his government have been discussing the possible decriminalization of marijuana.

“As we discuss it further, maybe there will be a time when there will be a Cabinet paper about it. But there has been discussion about that. For example, the question of persons who are incarcerated for just smoking a joint; that is something that’s actually being discussed,” Premier Smith said earlier this month.

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