David Burt, the Premier (file photo)
Attorney General Kathy Lynn Simmons (Akil Simmons file photo)
The Prime Minister said tonight that Bermuda’s relationship with Britain would be seriously damaged if a law licensing cannabis production was not given royal approval.
David Burt said there are indications that the governor would not be able to approve laws in violation of Britain’s international obligations.
But he added, “This legislation is being passed … If Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda disagrees with something that was lawfully and legally passed under this local government, it will destroy the relationship we have with the UK.
“I say because it can’t be, it can’t be for locally elected governments to display their electoral manifestos, vote, have widespread public support… and for someone who represents people 3,000 miles away, it is the country to inform ‘No you can’t’. “
Mr Burt added that reluctance by banks to share in the industry’s profits could not be tolerated.
He said, “A country cannot have true freedom if it does not have economic freedom.
“And the people of this country shouldn’t be dictated by banks that decide who succeeds and who doesn’t.
“That’s the paradigm that we need to change … that’s the difference between us and the opposition – they see a roadblock and they say, Stop, Go, No More. We say look into the problem and find out how we’re going to fix it. We will succeed where they failed. “
Mr Burt spoke at the end of a marathon debate on legislation to legalize cannabis and create a regulated business framework for the drug with the Cannabis Licensing Act, which was passed without a vote.
Michael Dunkley, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, said earlier in the debate that “maybe the government is trying to create friction”.
Mr Dunkley added, “I don’t think this bill will get royal approval.
“If we’re that serious, wouldn’t we work out a bill that would get royal approval from the government house?”
Kathy Lynn Simmons, Attorney General and Attorney General, opened the House of Assembly debate.
Ms. Simmons said the illegality of cannabis was “an unjust colonial legacy” and evidence of “systemic racial disparities” in which blacks have been criminalized by a white oligarchy.
She added that legislative changes were “long overdue”.
Ms. Simmons said, “We need radical new thinking – increasingly, legalization is not that radical at all.”
She added that the public consultation has shown “an overwhelming appetite for changes to our cannabis laws – the public accepts that there should be changes in the regime”.
She admitted that the proposed legislative changes could create friction with the UK.
But Ms. Simmons added, “That’s the kind of trouble this government isn’t afraid of.
“The entirety of the proposed legislation provides for more effective regulatory scrutiny to displace the illegal 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.”
It is currently illegal to have more than seven grams of the drug.
However, the new law will provide a number of licenses through the cannabis licensing authority that would allow people not only to own more, but also to grow, harvest, sell, and export the product.
Smoking cannabis in public is still prohibited, except in certain shops.
It is also illegal to sell the drug to anyone under the age of 21.
But Scott Pearman of the One Bermuda Alliance claimed that no one would like the law.
Ms. Simmons said, “If you believe in the prohibition of cannabis, then you don’t. Legalizing cannabis will lead to increased drug use.
“If you believe in decriminalization then this is not for you – cannabis was decriminalized back in 2017 and that has nothing to do with it.
“And if you believe in legalization, this is not for you because it is not about freedom of choice. It’s about licensing cannabis, and licenses are about control.
Mr. Pearman added, “In short, this is a bill on who controls and manages the supply of cannabis in Bermuda.
“This bill is about money – cold, hard money. It’s about corporate cannabis and the commercialization of cannabis. This is about who gets the money. “
He said anyone who hasn’t bought a license – which will cost up to $ 10,000 a year – could continue to be prosecuted and put on the U.S. stop list.
Mr Pearman added that the proposed law would allow police access to private homes and that anyone found more than the legal amount could be jailed for up to two years.
He said, “What for? For one or two extra potted plants on your porch.
“When you consider how little this bill actually meets the expectations of anyone – except one or two big players and their shareholders – people who already have enough money to secure and pay for the licenses to manufacture or import it – what is the benefit of the bill?
“Aside from the money that a select few are sure to make, what are the benefits of the new law?
“From today’s perspective, this bill offers only one thing – the prospect of a whole lot of money in the hands of a few.
“Bermuda deserves far more than the government’s cannabis law for a number of reasons and beliefs.”