UK foreign secretary Liz Truss considering island’s cannabis law
The constitutional stand-off over whether Bermuda is allowed to legalise cannabis took a new twist as it emerged the British foreign secretary is currently considering if the controversial move can go ahead.
It remains unclear when Liz Truss, who is widely expected to contest the Tory leadership battle in a bid to succeed Boris Johnson as UK prime minister, will make a decision on the matter.
Ms Truss is popular with hardline conservatives and has recently tried to brand herself as an heir to Margaret Thatcher.
Bermuda has been teetering on the brink of a potential constitutional crisis since Rena Lalgie, the Governor, withheld royal assent from the Cannabis Licensing Bill which seeks to legalise consumption and production of the drug in May.
A Government House spokesperson told The Royal Gazette: “The foreign secretary is considering whether assent can be given, and the Governor awaits a decision.”
When the Governor withheld assent – just short of refusing it – she urged talks between Hamilton and London to try and find a compromise on the emotive issue.
The Foreign Office dispatched a top civil servant to the island in late May, Paul Candler, Director of Overseas Territories, for discussions.
Government House said that Ms Lalgie invited Mr Candler to visit Bermuda before the cannabis controversy blew-up.
David Burt, the Premier, has been noticeably muted on the situation, despite the Cannabis Licensing Act being one of the Government’s flagship Bills.
This is in marked contrast to previous, fiery, statements in which he has insisted that a failure to grant royal assent – which makes a Bill law – would “destroy” relations between Bermuda and London.
The Government House spokesperson said: “Mr Candler’s visit was long planned, arranged by Government House and conducted at the Governor’s invitation.
“The Governor reserved assent of the Bill on the basis that it appeared to her, acting in her discretion, to go beyond what is permitted under the UN Conventions.“
The Government has repeatedly refused to say what the scope and tone of the talks with Mr Candler was.
The Governor called for dialogue when she withheld assent to the Bill.
Ms Lalgie stated: “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.”
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.
Although the Bill passed the House of Assembly, 12 PLP MPs – 40 per cent of the party’s cohort – did not vote for it, although some were overseas at the time.
The move was then tied in the Senate, which in constitutional terms means it was defeated.
The Upper House blocked the Bill last year, but had no power to do so a second time. The matter was then sent to the Governor for consideration.
One Bermuda Alliance has accused the Government of using the controversy over the Bill to try and create “friction” with Britain in over to push an independence agenda.
The Government and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have failed to respond to repeated requests by The Royal Gazette to comment on the matter.