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Burt warns London over cannabis licensing act

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David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)
Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Premier said last night Bermuda’s relationship with the UK would suffer serious damage if a law to license cannabis production failed to get Royal Assent.

David Burt said there were indications that the Governor would be unable to give assent to legislation that contravened Britain’s international obligations.

But he added: “This legislation will pass … If Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda does not give assent to something that has been passed lawfully and legally under this local government, this will destroy the relationship that we have with the United Kingdom.

“I say that because it cannot be, it cannot be, that locally elected governments lay out their election manifestos, go to the polls, have broad public support … and it be for someone who represents people 3,000 miles away to tell the country ’no, you cannot’.”

Mr Burt added that any reluctance on the part of banks to be involved with the profits of the industry could not be tolerated.

He said: “A country can not have true freedom unless it has economic freedom.

“And the people of this country should not be dictated to by banks who will decide who gets to succeed and who does not get to succeed.

“That is the paradigm that we must change … that is the difference between us and the Opposition – they see a roadblock and they say stop go no more. We say look at the problem and figure out how we are going to fix it. We will succeed where they failed.”

Mr Burt was speaking at the end of a marathon debate on legislation to legalise cannabis and create a regulated business framework for the drug with the Cannabis Licensing Act, which passed without a vote.

Michael Dunkley, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, said earlier in the debate that “maybe government is trying to cause some friction”.

Mr Dunkley added: “I don’t think this bill will get the Royal Assent.

“If we were that serious about it, wouldn’t we frame a bill that would get Royal Assent from Government House?”

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney General and legal affairs minister, kicked off the debate in the House of Assembly.

Ms Simmons said that the illegality of cannabis was “an unjust colonial legacy” and evidence of “systemic racialised disparities” where Black people were criminalised by a White oligarchy.

She added that changes to the law were “long overdue”.

Ms Simmons said: “We need radical new thinking – increasingly legalisation is not that radical at all.”

She added that public consultation had demonstrated “an overwhelming appetite for changes in our cannabis laws – the public accepts there should be changes to the regime”.

She admitted that the proposed legal changes could cause friction with the United Kingdom.

But Ms Simmons added: “That is the type of trouble this Government is not afraid of.

“The totality of the proposed legislation provides for better effective regulatory control to displace the illicit market and full economic access at a time when families are suffering and looking for new economic opportunities.

“It will provide the greatest good for the greatest number.”

It is at present illegal to be in possession of more than seven grams of the drug.

But the new Act will make a series of licences available through the Cannabis Licencing Authority, which would allow people to not only possess more, but also to grow, harvest, sell, and export the product.

Smoking cannabis in public will still be outlawed except in designated shops.

It will also be illegal to sell the drug to anyone under the age of 21.

But Scott Pearman of the One Bermuda Alliance claimed that the Act would please no one.

Ms Simmons said: “If you believe in the prohibition of cannabis then this bill is not you. Legalising cannabis will lead to increased drug use.

“If you believe in decriminalisation, then it’s not for you – cannabis was already decriminalised in 2017 and this does nothing to that.

“And if you believe in legalisation, this is not for you because it’s not about freedom of choice. It’s about the licensing of cannabis and licences are about control.

Mr Pearman added: “In short, this is a bill about who controls and manages the supply of cannabis in Bermuda.

“This bill is about money – cold, hard cash. It’s about corporate cannabis and commercialisation of cannabis. This is about who gets the cash.”

He said that anyone who did not buy a licence – which will cost up to $10,000 a year – would still face criminal charges and could be placed on the US stop list.

Mr Pearman added the proposed law would allow police to enter private homes and that anyone found with more than the legal amount could be jailed for up to two years.

He said: “For what? For having one or two extra pot plants on their porch.

“Given how little this Bill actually meets anyone’s expectations – other than one or two big players and their shareholders – people who will already have enough money to secure and pay the licences for manufacturing or importation – what is the benefit of the bill?

“Leaving aside the money that will certainly be made by a select few, what are the benefits that the new law will provide?

“As things presently stand, this bill offers only one thing – the prospect of a whole lot of money in the hands of a few.

“For a range of reasons and beliefs, Bermuda deserves far better than the Government Corporate Cannabis Bill.”

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Published February 20, 2021 at 9:48 am (Updated February 20, 2021 at 4:20 pm)

Burt warns London over cannabis licensing act

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