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Cannabis on the agenda as UK official visits Bermuda this week

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Paul Candler, the director of the Overseas Territories at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (File photograph)

Talks on the Government’s stalled bid to get its controversial cannabis plans into law will be held with a senior British official this week.

Paul Candler, the director of Overseas Territories at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, is travelling to the island for discussions.

Referring to the constitutional stand-off over the push by David Burt, the Premier, to legalise consumption and production of cannabis, a government spokesman told The Royal Gazette that Mr Candler would be in Bermuda this week “for meetings, and the matter will form part of those discussions”.

In what was widely seen as a compromise move, Rena Lalgie, the Governor, reserved giving assent to the Cannabis Licensing Bill last week rather than refuse it outright at this stage.

However, the sensitive issue could trigger a constitutional crisis.

The Governor said that the legislation contravened international treaty obligations undertaken by Bermuda and the UK and urged talks between Hamilton and London to find a way forward on the emotive issue.

David Burt, the Premier (File photograph)

The response from David Burt, the Premier, has been noticeably muted. Previously, he insisted that failure for the Bill to become law would “destroy” the island’s relationship with the UK.

The spokesman confirmed that the Governor’s letter on the Cannabis Licensing Bill was received by the Government last Thursday, the same day it was made public.

Mr Candler’s previous roles in the British civil service have included director of international, rights and constitutional policy at the Ministry of Justice.

His responsibilities there included overseeing the British Government’s relations with the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, and supporting the justice systems of the Overseas Territories.

The Governor said that the Cannabis Licensing Act 2022 appeared to her to be “inconsistent” with what she understood to be obligations held by Britain and Bermuda under UN Conventions, but she appeared to be sympathetic to the aims of the legislation.

Ms Lalgie stated that she had “no choice” but to reserve assent for the Bill and to notify British foreign secretary Liz Truss on the matter.

The Governor said: “I hope that Bermudian officials will work together with British officials to find a way forward – one that does not result in life-changing criminal records for users of small amounts of cannabis and unlocks commercial opportunities, while maintaining Bermuda’s excellent reputation for upholding the rule of law.

“The UK has supported, and is currently assisting, some of the Crown Dependencies and other Overseas Territories to develop a way which is compliant with the relevant conventions.”

There was a delay of more than a month between the Cannabis Licensing Act passing through Parliament on March 30 and being sent to the Governor for consideration.

Craig Cannonier, a former premier in the One Bermuda Alliance government, insisted that the time lag was “unusual” and suggested it may have been caused by behind-the-scenes communications on the issue between the Government and Downing Street.

The OBA has accused the Progressive Labour Party of using the bid for liberalisation of cannabis laws as a “smokescreen” for a push towards independence.

After being rejected by the Senate last year, the Bill returned to Parliament in February and passed the House of Assembly by a vote of 18-6.

Forty per cent of the PLP’s House of Assembly contingent – 12 MPs – failed to vote for the Bill, although some of them were overseas at the time.

Then the legislation tied in the Senate 5-5, but the Upper House no longer had the power to block it.

Mr Burt has previously said: “If Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda does not give assent to something that has been passed lawfully and legally under this local government, this will destroy the relationship we had with the United Kingdom.”

The Government admitted last year that its cannabis plans went beyond the limits of international conventions on drugs, which Britain has signed up to, and that the legislation was not in line with Britain’s obligations under the UN’s 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

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Published May 18, 2022 at 7:49 am (Updated May 19, 2022 at 9:07 am)

Cannabis on the agenda as UK official visits Bermuda this week

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