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OBA senators to vote against cannabis cultivation Bill today

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Cannabis (File photograph)
Ben Smith, Opposition Senate Leader (File photograph)

One Bermuda Alliance senators will vote against legislation to licence cannabis production at today’s session of the Upper House, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

Ben Smith, the Opposition senate leader, said the Government Bill did not set out what it said it intended to do.

Mr Smith added that his party would question the Government side on the potential impact legalisation of cannabis would have on already-stretched drug abuse and addiction assistance agencies.

Mr Smith said: “There are way too many questions that remain unanswered.

“There is very little conversation around the impact it will have on the population and people dependent on drugs and there is very little indication as to how it will affect the sector that is already stretched – the counselling sector.

“They are not supported to a level to keep up at the moment and with this Bill we will add to it and without being in any position to pay – our budget is having to be cut closely.”

He was speaking after the ruling Progressive Labour Party tabled legislation to legalise cannabis and create a regulated framework for the drug with the Cannabis Licensing Act.

The legislation passed in the House of Assembly on February 19 without a vote.

But Mr Smith said he will ask for a vote in the Senate.

He added: “This is a historic position and we have to be held accountable for the decisions we make.”

Mr Smith said there was not enough information on how the industry would be taxed or how revenue would be spent.

He asked: “When we are talking about recreational cannabis, what will the taxation will be on it?”

Mr Smith said: “That is important. We have the sin tax for tobacco and alcohol products which is a big generator – you are getting revenue for items that are addictive to the population.

“Are we adding a layer to that to get revenue?

“In other jurisdictions that was one of the big talking points – the revenue that comes in was one of the benefits. Taxation should be helping the helping agencies. What will it be and how will it be used?”

Mr Smith added that the bill did not tackle the problem of people being put on the US stop list for cannabis offences.

He also predicted that the Bill could price the people it intended to help out of the market.

Mr Smith said: “One of the things put forward is that it will help those who have been trouble with cannabis convictions in the past by giving them access to business.

“But as you add taxes and fees, each step can leave those people behind and doesn’t give them access.

“This bill is a corporate cannabis bill – it's about money.”

He added: “It is difficult to start a business in Bermuda – you have to get the capital from somewhere.

“Where will the start-up capital come from?”

He was speaking after Social Justice Bermuda, an activist group, set out its proposed amendments to the legislation in a letter to senators.

The letter said that the Minister of Health should be responsible for drug prevention, rather than the Minister of Legal Affairs, which was “a criminal justice approach”.

The group added there should be no threat of imprisonment for cannabis use – only drug treatment court, revocation of licences, community service orders and fines.

SJB also proposed that the “minister responsible” under the legislation should be the Minister of Health rather than the Minister of Legal Affairs to remove the criminal stigma of cannabis use and underline that it was public health problem.

The group added that people involved in the illicit cannabis market should be encouraged to move into the licensed sphere.

The group added: “We suggest a lower class of retail licence which would be virtual, not requiring a physical shop and authorising the storage and purchase of a quarter pound without the need for a transport licence to do home deliveries.”

SJB also suggested that fees from licensing should be used for social programmes and treatment, cultivation training and to fund medical research related to cannabis use.

See separate web story for further details on the SJB letter.

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Published March 03, 2021 at 12:22 pm (Updated March 03, 2021 at 12:22 pm)

OBA senators to vote against cannabis cultivation Bill today

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