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PLP allows backbenchers a free vote as OBA opposes bill

Cannabis: legislation on legalising sale of the drug is about to go before MPs (File photograph)

Government backbenchers will be allowed a conscience vote on introducing the island’s first legal cannabis regime.

And the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance signalled ahead of the debate in the House of Assembly that it is opposed to sweeping legislation to bring the drug into a regulated business framework, saying it does not meet its goals.

David Burt, the Premier, said there was “a long history within the Progressive Labour Party of not holding members of our back bench to a party whip on items that could be considered to offend the conscience of some of our members”.

Mr Burt said backbenchers were “free to speak their mind” in the debate on the cannabis licensing legislation.

The PLP highlighted the regulation and taxation of the drug in its 2020 election platform.

Revenues were pledged to be invested in the communities that have borne the brunt of cannabis prohibition.

Mr Burt said the proposals were put out for public consultation ahead of the Cannabis (Licensing and Regulation) Act getting tabled in the House last December.

The Premier said he expected “a robust debate” in the House and that “the vast majority of our caucus supports this Bill”.

He added that he had “no doubt” it would be approved by legislators.

Sources within the PLP have said the it does not enjoy full support, with some government MPs said to be unhappy at legalising a drug, including for religious reasons.

Cabinet Ministers who are bound by Cabinet collective responsibility are expected to support the bill.

Jarion Richardson, the One Bermuda Alliance party whip, said the Opposition did not support the Bill as presented.

He added: “It’s such a complex issue – in one piece of legislation that’s trying to do so many things at once, we are not confident that it will do what it sets out to do.”

Mr Richardson said the OBA had “concerns over the probability of success of implementing such a large regulatory framework” under the legislation, and that the criteria for where cannabis could be grown appeared to exclude much of the island’s property.

“We do not see the average man on the street being able to compete against people who have the assets,” he said

With cultivation barred within set distances from landmarks such as schools, Mr Richardson said: “If you look at a map of Bermuda, you realise that most places you can’t do it.”

Mr Richardson said the OBA supported the idea of “removing a revenue generator from the criminal fraternity” by legalising the drug.

He added: “But what we’re questioning is, will it do that?

“We have not seen an impact study on criminality. Everyone in Bermuda understands what it will do in principle – but will it happen?”

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Published February 19, 2021 at 8:41 am (Updated February 19, 2021 at 8:41 am)

PLP allows backbenchers a free vote as OBA opposes bill

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