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Senate to debate cannabis industry bill on March 3

The Senate’s independents could hold the balance of power in a vote next week on a controversial Bill to create a legal framework senators in the Upper House for a cannabis industry.

There are five Progressive Labour Party senators and three Opposition ones and the fate of the legislation may hinge on the Senate’s two independents, plus the tie breaking vote of the Senate president, Joan Dillas-Wright, also an independent.

Ben Smith, the Opposition Leader in the Senate, insisted last night that the One Bermuda Alliance did not support the Cannabis Licensing Act 2020, which was passed in the House of Assembly last Friday.

But Mr Smith declined to comment on possible amendments proposed for the final debate until the OBA senate team had done more research.

David Burt, the Premier, announced last week that PLP back bench MPs would get a conscience vote on the legislation in the House.

Mr Burt said the PLP typically did not impose a Government Whip on legislation “considered to offend the conscience of some of our members”.

Mr Smith said he had been “disappointed” to see no roll-call for a vote at the end of the House debate.

He added: “It’s a major change for the country, and it would have been interesting to see the positions of some MPs. Not a lot of people spoke about it.”

Mr Smith said an emergency session of the Senate yesterday had been called to pass health regulations against the coronavirus.

The Cannabis (Licensing and Regulation) Act was tabled for debate at the next sitting.

Mr Smith said Ms Dillas-Wright moved to have the cannabis debate on March 3 to give senators more time to read through the Bill, rather than leave them “scrambling”.

Mr Smith declined to speculate on whether the Senate would reject the legislation.

He added: “The independent senators have to look at it and it didn’t get sent to the Senate until that morning.”

Ms Dillas-Wright and the two independent senators declined to state their positions yesterday.

Ms Dillas-Wright said: “It is indeed a large piece of legislation, which is the rationale for senators to be given the time to review it and to conduct any research they would want to carry out prior to its debate.

“As I am still in the process of carrying out my own research, I am not prepared to provide any information regarding it or my sources.”

Michelle Simmons, the vice-president of the Senate, said she was “not at liberty to discuss the debate before it happens”.

Ms Simmons said it was “quite a hefty piece of legislation” and she declined to predict its reception in the Upper House.

She added: “It’s hard for me to predict, because we have so many new senators there.

“All I will say is, tune in on March 3.”

John Wight, the other independent senator, said it would be “premature” to comment.

He added: “I haven’t had a chance to review what I need before it gets debated. There hasn’t been any discussion.

“I think many senators are in the same position I am in – we have homework to do.”

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Published February 23, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated February 22, 2021 at 8:36 pm)

Senate to debate cannabis industry bill on March 3

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