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Dunkley: cannabis law change used as independence gambit

Michael Dunkley (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Government has used controversial cannabis legislation as part of a breakaway move from the UK, a shadow minister claimed yesterday.

Michael Dunkley, the shadow minister of national security, said that drug reform had been used to pick a fight with Britain in a bid “for ultimate power and control through independence”.

Mr Dunkley was speaking after the Cannabis Licensing Act was passed in the House of Assembly last Friday.

The law will make it legal for licence holders to grow, sell and smoke the drug.

Mr Dunkley said that similar legislation in the British Virgin Islands had been sidelined after the UK refused to ratify it.

He added: “We all need to pay attention and observe the words and actions of the government.

“The concerns I have raised make me believe the issues of this bill are not about cannabis reform but the PLP's desire for ultimate power and control through independence.

“I believe the Government is trying to cause friction with the UK and it is my belief the bill would not obtain Royal Assent.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney General said in the House of Assembly on Friday that the bill contravened United Nations narcotics conventions – and, as written, would not get Royal Assent from the Governor.

She added: “The UK Government through Government House has confirmed support for Bermuda’s policy and legislation only so far as it does not contravene the UK’s international obligations.

“To be clear, the Governor has indicated that she will be unable to give assent to any legislation that contravenes those international obligations.”

But Mr Dunkley questioned why the Government had tabled the bill if it knew it would not get signed into law.

He added: “As a former Premier I am aware of the process taken for the passage of legislation and, at times, with contentious legislation, there could be concerns raised by the Governor.

“This is when through the drafting process, discussions at Cabinet and with Government House there is collaboration to work through any concerns.

“I am sure every Premier has worked through issues like this and that is why I am alarmed that upon debating this bill my concerns of friction were confirmed and that it might not receive Royal Assent.

“Statements by Premier Burt such as it will ’destroy the relationship that we have with the United Kingdom’, serve no purpose in a cannabis debate and demonstrate questionable leadership.

“In my view there is an ulterior motive for this bombastic approach – independence.“

Mr Dunkley added that it was outrageous for the Government to criticise the UK after the British government had given crucial support over the Covid-19 crisis.

He said: “Let us not forget who provided free of charge the PCR tests and some associated supplies required for us to have an aggressive testing programme.

“Let us not forget who provided us free of charge the vaccines which have provided hope and a way forward during these tough times.

“I find it unconscionable that the PLP government would attack the UK in our Parliament with comments such as ’the illegality of cannabis is part of an unjust colonial legacy’.

A Government spokesman said last night: “MP Dunkley’s comments are an insult to the hardworking draftspersons in the Attorney General’s Chambers who spent countless hours over many months preparing this bill and MP Dunkley should apologise for those derogatory comments.

“It is the Government’s expectation that the Opposition will support the right of Bermuda’s democratically elected Legislature to make laws for Bermuda.

“This Government believes strongly in Bermuda’s internal self-governance and hopes that the Opposition is not adopting the approach of losing in Parliament and then asking the Governor to intercede to block the democratic will of the Bermudian voter.”

Government House last night declined to comment on the controversy.

A spokeswoman for the Governor said: “It would not be appropriate for the Governor to comment publicly on the proposed legislation as it has not yet come to her for assent, which is a requirement under Article 35 (2) of the Constitution.”

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Published February 23, 2021 at 8:50 am (Updated February 23, 2021 at 1:42 pm)

Dunkley: cannabis law change used as independence gambit

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