Bermuda’s premier sees hurdles in move to license cannabis production
Hamilton – Premier David Burt has expressed doubt over whether a new law to license cannabis production in Bermuda will get the royal assent from Governor Rena Lalgie, and says the island’s relationship with the United Kingdom would suffer serious damage.
Burt told the House of Assembly there were indications that Lalgie, who became Governor in this British Overseas Territory in December, would be unable to give assent to legislation that contravened Britain’s international obligations.
But he added: “This legislation will pass . . . . 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 that we have with the United Kingdom.
“I say that because it cannot be, it cannot be, that locally elected governments lay out their election manifestos, go to the polls, have broad public support . . . and it be for someone who represents people 3 000 miles away to tell the country, ‘no, you cannot’.”
Burt added that any reluctance on the part of banks to be involved with the profits of the industry could not be tolerated.
“A country cannot have true freedom unless it has economic freedom. And the people of this country should not be dictated to by banks who will decide who gets to succeed and who does not get to succeed.
“That is the paradigm that we must change . . . That is the difference between us and the opposition [One Bermuda Alliance] – they see a roadblock and they say, ‘stop, go no more’. We say look at the problem and figure out how we are going to fix it. We will succeed where they failed,” Premier Burt said.
He was speaking at the end of a marathon debate on Friday to legalise cannabis and create a regulated business framework for the drug with the Cannabis Licensing Act, which passed without a vote. The government has a 24-seat majority.
Opposition MP Michael Dunkley, a former premier, said earlier in the debate that “maybe government is trying to cause some friction”.
Dunkley, whose party was in power from 2012 until 2017, added: “I don’t think this bill will get the royal assent. If we were that serious about it, wouldn’t we frame a bill that would get royal assent from Government House?”
His colleague Scott Pearman said the Act would please no one in Bermuda whose economy has taken a battering from the coronavirus pandemic with the national debt edging towards US$3 billion.
Attorney-General and Legal Affairs Minister Kathy Lynn Simmons, who kicked off the debate, said the illegality of cannabis was “an unjust colonial legacy” and evidence of “systemic racialised disparities” where black people were criminalised by a white oligarchy.
She added that changes to the law were long overdue.
“We need radical new thinking – increasingly legalisation is not that radical at all,” Simmons said.
She added that public consultation had demonstrated “an overwhelming appetite for changes in our cannabis laws – the public accepts there should be changes to the regime”.
The Attorney General admitted that the proposed legal changes could cause friction with the UK.
But, she added, “that is the type of trouble this government is not afraid of.
“The totality of the proposed legislation provides for better effective regulatory control to displace the illicit market and full economic access at a time when families are suffering and looking for new economic opportunities. It will provide the greatest good for the greatest number,” she added.
It is at present illegal to be in possession of more than seven grammes of the drug.
But the new Act will make a series of licences available through the Cannabis Licencing Authority, which would allow people to not only possess more, but also to grow, harvest, sell, and export the product.
Smoking cannabis in public will still be outlawed, except in designated shops.
It will also be illegal to sell the drug to anyone under the age of 21. (CMC)