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Confrontation over cannabis law relaxation set to come to a head

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Rena Lalgie, the Governor (File photograph)

The Governor will not automatically sign into law legislation to allow the legal growth and sale cannabis if it is ruled to be not in line with United Nations drugs conventions.

Rena Lalgie is expected to be asked to approve the Cannabis Licensing Act 2022 after it is discussed in the Senate today - but she has the option to withhold her signature or refer the legislation to London.

A Government House spokeswoman said: “Her Excellency shall reserve assent if she considers the Bill to be inconsistent with the UK’s international obligations, in this instance the United Nations conventions on drugs.”

The Constitution said that a Governor can assent, withhold assent or reserve a Bill “for the signification of Her Majesty’s pleasure”.

It added that, unless authorised by a Secretary of State to approve the change, the Governor must reserve judgment on legislation which appears to be inconsistent with any UK government obligation under international treaties.

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, said last night that a roll-call vote was held to “report the Bill out of Committee of the Whole House to the House of Assembly” after MPs debated and passed the Bill last Friday.

The legislation was rejected by the Senate by six votes to five last year.

But, even if a majority of senators object again, the legislation will be sent to the Governor for Royal Assent, in line with the Constitution.

Mr Roban, also the Minister of Home Affairs, presented the Cannabis Licensing Act on behalf of Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform, in the House of Assembly last Friday.

He told MPs that the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 2020.

Mr Roban said: “This change by the United Nations oversight body theoretically removes some of the structural hurdles for emerging cannabis industries globally.

“It effectively allows for greater national competence for signatories to enact legislation allowing increased medical, scientific and industrial uses of cannabis without falling afoul of the three major international narcotics conventions.”

He admitted: “The Bill’s provisions will exceed the proscribed limits of various narcotics conventions.”

But Mr Roban said: “The Government of Bermuda is pursuing all diplomatic and legal options to deliver on its promise to our people, fully cognisant of the UK’s role to ensure compliance with the international narcotics conventions extended to Bermuda.

“However, Bermuda, as a small overseas territory of the UK, democratically desires for social, cultural and public health reasons to chart its own distinct course in the difficult area of cannabis reform while adhering to international law to the greatest extent possible.”

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mr Roban added: “The UK, through Government House, has confirmed support for Bermuda’s policies and legislation, only insofar as it does not contravene the UK’s international obligations.

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

The Bill would create a regulated framework for the growth and sale of cannabis.

A series of licences would be available through a licensing authority, which would allow people to possess more of the drug and also to grow, harvest, sell, and export it.

The second reading of the Bill – a House debate on the general principle of the legislation – was held last Friday and members went into the committee stage, a detailed look at the clauses.

Opposition One Bermuda Alliance MPs called for a roll-call vote when it was moved that the Bill be “reported to the House as printed”.

Six OBA MPs objected and 18 Progressive Labour Party members were in favour.

Two Government MPs – Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House and Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker – were not required to vote because of their positions.

Another ten PLP MPs did not vote.

Mr Roban said last night: “It would not be accurate to say the Bill passed the House of Assembly 18 – 6.

“At 6.55pm on Friday, I laid a motion that the Cannabis Licensing Bill 2022 pass the House of Assembly.

“The Speaker of the House asked if there was any objection to the Bill passing the House of Assembly – there was no objection raised by MPs and the Bill was passed without objection.”

Mr Roban added: “The vote in question was a vote to report the Bill out of committee of the whole House to the House of Assembly, not a vote for the Bill’s passage.

“The Opposition requested for a roll-call vote on the report of the committee to the House knowing that ministers and members were at engagements and travelling.”

He added that ministers and MPs also had meetings or other engagements held when they were not presenting Bills or involved in debate.

Mr Roban said: “On Friday, there were a number of Government ministers and MPs who were either off island or attending professional or personal engagements.”

He added: “The role of the Government Whip is to ensure that at any given time there are the required votes to advance the Government’s legislation – and that was the case on Friday.

“The Government Bill was successfully reported out of Committee and was passed by the House of Assembly without objection.”

How they voted

MPs voted to report the Cannabis Licensing Act 2022 out of Committee.

Shernette Wolffe, the Clerk to the House of Assembly, said the votes were as follows:

Ayes: 18

David Burt, Crystal Caesar, Vance Campbell, Lovitta Foggo, Tinée Furbert, Jason Hayward, Dennis Lister III, Diallo Rabain, Walter Roban, Lawrence Scott, Jamahl Simmons, Scott Simmons, Ianthia Simmons-Wade, Kim Swan, Neville Tyrrell, Jason Wade, Michael Weeks, Kim Wilson.

Nos: 6

Craig Cannonier, Michael Dunkley, Susan Jackson, Scott Pearman, Jarion Richardson, Cole Simons.

All of the “aye” votes were from PLP MPs and all of the “no” votes were from OBA MPs.

Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House, and Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker, who was the committee chairman, were not required to vote.

Christopher Famous, a PLP backbencher who was overseas on family business, said that he did not make it in time for his vote to be counted.

He explained: “I got notice of the vote and then by the time I logged on, they had gone across my name.

“Had I got a chance to vote, I would have voted in the affirmative, so it wasn’t any abstention on my part.”

Wayne Caines, another Government backbencher, said: “I abstained.”

Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said that he was on medical leave and not present in the House when the vote was called.

Anthony Richardson, also a PLP MP, said that a written request should be sent to Scott Simmons, the party Whip to find out if he had voted.

Mr Simmons was sent an e-mail that included a question about which Government MPs abstained in the vote, but no response was received by press time.

Queries about Cabinet ministers Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, Renee Ming and Kathy Lynn Simmons were sent to the Government’s communications team.

The response received was Mr Roban’s comment included in the main story.

PLP backbenchers Jache Adams, Zane DeSilva and Curtis Dickinson did not respond to requests for information.

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Published March 30, 2022 at 3:07 pm (Updated March 30, 2022 at 7:44 pm)

Confrontation over cannabis law relaxation set to come to a head

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