Government tight-lipped over UK cannabis law talks
Ministers are refusing to say if there were any breakthroughs on the stand-off with London over the Government’s flagship cannabis legislation during top level talks with a senior British official.
Despite repeated requests for information on the controversial issue by The Royal Gazette, ministers are staying quiet despite the matter leaving Bermuda on the brink of a constitutional crisis.
Paul Candler, the Overseas Territories Director at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, visited Bermuda in recent weeks for talks after Rena Lalgie, the Governor, effectively stalled the Cannabis Licensing Act and called for discussions on the matter between Hamilton and Westminster.
The Government has been unusually tight-lipped on the issue since the Governor reserved giving Royal Assent to the Bill – a move just short of rejecting it.
This is in contrast to previous statements from David Burt, the Premier, where he insisted failure to give Royal Assent to the legislation would “destroy” Bermuda’s relations with Britain.
Ahead of Mr Calder’s arrival on the island, a government spokesman said he would be in Bermuda “for meetings, and the matter will form part of those discussions”.
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 Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, 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 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, which would legalise consumption and production of the drug, 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 might have been caused by behind-the-scenes communications on the issue between the Government and Downing Street.
The OBA has stated that the PLP is 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.
A dozen MPs, 40 per cent of the PLP’s House of Assembly cohort, 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.
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.