HAMILTON, Bermuda, CMC — Governor Rena Lalgie has urged the Bermuda government to work with Britain to find a compromise after announcing that she was reserving assent on controversial cannabis legislation, putting her and Premier David Burt back on an apparent collision course.
Burt did not immediately comment on the Governor’s decision on Thursday night on the Progressive Labour Party’s (PLP) flagship legislation, but he has previously said that if the move to legalise consumption and production of the drug in this British Overseas Territory was not granted royal assent it would “destroy” Bermuda’s relations with London.
The opposition One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), which has only six MPs in the 36-seat House of Assembly, said it came as no surprise the Governor had reserved assent on the cannabis bill.
The Governor said in her statement that the Cannabis Licensing Act 2022 appeared to her to be “inconsistent” with what she understood to be obligations held by the United Kingdom and Bermuda under United Nations conventions.
“I, therefore, have no choice but to reserve Assent of the Bill under Section 35 (2) of the Constitution and to notify theSecretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.
“I hope that Bermudian officials will work together with UK 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, whilst maintaining Bermuda’s excellent reputation for upholding the rule of law.”
Reserving assent stops short of refusing assent, and the Governor added “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”.
The Cannabis Licensing Act passed parliament on March 30, but the more than month-long delay in it being sent to the Governor for consideration was branded “unusual” by Craig Cannonier, a former OBA premier, who said he heard behind-the-scenes negotiations with London were taking place on the matter.
A cabinet minister denied the claim.
The OBA has claimed that the PLP’s pro-cannabis liberalisation move was really a “smokescreen” for a push towards independence.
After being rejected by the Senate last year, the bill returned to the House in February and passed by 18 votes to six — the six OBA MPs.
A dozen government MPs failed to vote for the bill, although some of them were overseas at the time.
The legislation tied at 5-5 when it subsequently went back to the Senate, but the Upper House no longer had the power to block it.
Shadow Home Affairs and Legal Affairs Minister Scott Pearman, weighing in on the Governor’s decision, again questioned whether Burt, who is also Finance Minister, had always intended the bill to fail.
“Just over two weeks ago the opposition was asked to comment on the likelihood of the Premier’s flagship cannabis bill becoming law. At that time we said this: ‘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’. ”
“It should really come as no surprise to anyone that royal assent has yet to be granted on this bill. And if it is ultimately withheld, that should not surprise Premier Burt either,” he added.