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Delay over cannabis Bill ‘unusual’

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Legislation regulating cannabis production has not been sent to the Governor for consideration yet

A month-long delay in presenting controversial cannabis legislation to the Governor for approval has been branded “unusual” by a former premier who questioned the reasons behind the move.

Craig Cannonier, the former leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, said he understood that discussions were taking place between the Government and Downing Street over the bid to legalise consumption and production of the drug.

The Cannabis Licensing Bill, which David Burt, the Premier, has promoted as a flagship piece of legislation, passed Parliament on March 30, but, as of Wednesday night, had still not gone to Government House for consideration by Rena Lalgie, the Governor.

Former premier Craig Cannonier (Photograph supplied)

Ms Lalgie has signalled in recent months that it is likely she would not be able to give the proposed laws Royal Assent as they do not comply with British international treaty obligations.

The Governor and Mr Burt have appeared to be on a collision course over the issue.

Mr Cannonier told The Royal Gazette: “This kind of delay is unusual.

“I think it indicates that something else is going on. What, we don’t know.

“Whether or not the Government is still having conversations?

“I do know that there have been correspondence between London and our local Government on the issue going forward. I know they have been liaising with London on the matter.

“So, maybe there are discussions still being had. What is very clear to me though is this will not get Royal Assent, or any approval at all.

“And there are a number of complications for that. The PLP has known this all along. They knew they were not going to get this through.”

He added: “They have been in correspondence with 10 Downing Street ever since on this Bill, so they know that the Governor is not going to be able to give Royal Assent, or any kind of approval.

“So, why are we debating this if you already know this?”

Mr Cannonier said that Mr Burt could not be taken seriously when he warned that failure to grant Royal Assent would “destroy” the island’s relationship with London.

The shadow public works minister said: “It’s an empty bluff. It’s just a picture op, that’s what he’s doing.”

Shadow Legal Affairs Minister Scott Pearman questioned if the Premier had always intended for the Bill to fail, saying he was well aware it breached the UK’s treaty obligations.

“Given the UK’s international convention obligations, there must be a high likelihood that the Governor will not grant Royal Assent – so this Bill will not likely become law.

“The Premier then stated publicly in November, 2021 that he had no intention of tailoring his Bill to satisfy the UK’s conventions obligations. Therefore, it was his choice to steam ahead as he did rather than seek compromise.

“If the Governor does not sign the Bill, this will come as no surprise to Premier Burt. Was it Premier Burt’s intention to have this Bill fail from the start?”

A spokesman for the Governor told The Royal Gazette: “The Governor has not received anything to date. When the Governor does receive the Bill for Assent, she will consider it within the context of the Bermuda Constitution as she does with any other Bill.”

The legislation has had a turbulent passage through Parliament with the Senate blocking it in 2021.

When it returned to Parliament this year, 12 of the 30 PLP MPs failed to vote for it in the House of Assembly — some of them were away at the time — when it passed 18-6.

Although the Senate could not shoot it down a second time, the vote in the Upper House was tied 5-5, which is counted as a loss under parliamentary rules.

It is usual for Bills to then go to the Cabinet Office and be transferred for the Governor’s approval.

Ms Lalgie has made it clear that legalisation of cannabis for purposes other than medicinal and scientific use, or some industrial procedures, is not permitted under Britain’s international obligations.

The Government admitted last year that its cannabis plans went beyond the limits of international conventions on drugs, to which Britain is a signatory.

The legislation is not in line with Britain’s international obligations under the UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

A spokeswoman for the Governor had told The Royal Gazette that British officials were prepared to discuss the issue with ministers.

She added: “When a Bill is received by a Governor for assent, they will consider it in accordance with the Governor’s role, which is clearly set out in the Constitution.

“That includes considering whether the Bill is inconsistent with any international obligation.

“The relevant international obligations permit, subject to necessary controls, legalisation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes, and for certain industrial purposes.

“Legalisation of cannabis for other purposes is not permitted. However, decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of cannabis is possible within the conventions.”

Governor Rena Lalgie (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Mr Burt said after London meetings with British ministers and leaders from other Overseas Territories in November: “It was critical to make it clear that there is no intention by the Government of Bermuda to amend the current legislation to conform to the 60-year-old convention that allows cannabis supply for medicinal purposes only.

“Many countries, such as Canada, that allow regulated supply of cannabis for non-medicinal purposes are signatories to that convention.

“The overall intent of the legislation is clear and it enjoys the support of the Bermuda electorate, which was confirmed at the last general election.”

Mr Burt added that once the legislation had passed in the House of Assembly, the Government’s “expectation” was for permission to be given by the Foreign Secretary for Royal Assent by the Governor.

The Royal Gazette asked the Government to comment on the delay and provide reasons for it, but did not receive a reply.

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Published April 28, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated April 28, 2022 at 7:53 am)

Delay over cannabis Bill ‘unusual’

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