HAMILTON, Bermuda, CMC – The government of Bermuda says it is awaiting the next move from London over its flagship cannabis legislation after Governor Rena Lalgie declined to give it the royal assent.
Lalgie reserved assent on Thursday, calling on the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) government in this British Overseas Territory and the United Kingdom (UK) to work together on a way forward regarding the controversial issue.
Premier David Burt, who has previously declared that if the move to legalise consumption and production of cannabis did not receive royal assent it would “destroy” relations with London, said the government awaited the next move by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
The Royal Gazette newspaper said on Saturday the government had dodged questions it submitted over whether contacts had been made with UK officials on the legislation, and issued a subdued response to the Governor’s remarks, some 24 hours after Lalgie made them.
A government spokeswoman said: “We have received the correspondence from the Governor regarding her decision to reserve Assent of the Cannabis Licensing Bill 2022, pursuant to Section 35 of Constitution, and to notify the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, of such decision.
“We await the position of the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs regarding this matter.”
The Governor said the Cannabis Licensing Act 2022 appeared to her to be “inconsistent” with what she understood to be obligations held by the UK and Bermuda under United Nations conventions, but she appeared to be sympathetic to the aims of the legislation.
She stated: “I therefore have no choice but to reserve assent of the Bill under Section 35 (2) of the Constitution and to notify the Secretary 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, while 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 opposition One Bermuda Alliance has said the PLP drive for liberalisation of cannabis laws was 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 18 votes to six.
Twelve PLP MPs failed to vote, 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.