MPs passed the Cannabis Licensing Act 2020 just after 10pm on Friday night, before the House adjourned around 10:45pm, following a lengthy debate on the new regulatory framework tabled by the Attorney General Kathy Lynn Simmons.
Now all eyes will be on the Senate and then on to Government House, if the Bill is passed in the Upper House.
The question of whether or not it will receive the Governor’s assent was a subject raised by Premier David Burt, who 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 that we had with the United Kingdom.”
Ultimately, he said “the UK government will listen to the democratic voice of the people of this country”.
He was speaking at the end of the debate, which went on for more than eight hours in the Lower House on Friday (Feb 19).
He also noted that the Attorney General, in her brief stated: “To be clear, the Governor has indicated that she will be unable to assent to any legislation that contravenes our international obligations.
“This legislation will go to the other place, and if this legislation passes the other place, it will go to Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda,” said Mr Burt.
“It cannot be that locally elected governments lay out their election manifestos, go to the polls, have broad public support, polling support, majority of the populace supporting the direction of the country, and it be for someone who represents people 3,000 miles away to tell the country ‘No, you cannot’.
“If our regime is modeled after Canada, another country where Her Majesty serves as the head of state, and they can be in noncompliance with an antiquated international policy, I ask Mr. Speaker, why can the same not apply to Her Majesty’s oldest colony of Bermuda?
“I ask the question why? What is the difference? And I want to quote from the Attorney General’s brief one more time, Mr Speaker. In which she said, and I quote, ‘The government of Bermuda is pursuing all diplomatic and legal options to deliver on its promise to our people, fully cognizant of the United Kingdom’s role to ensure compliance with international narcotics conventions, extended to Bermuda’.
“However, Bermuda as a small overseas territory of the United Kingdom, democratically desires for social, cultural, and public health reasons, to chart its own distinct course in the difficult area of cannabis reform while adhering to international law to the greatest extent possible.
“I go on to say, ‘As Bermuda is a non-state party to the narcotics conventions, the conventions are extended to us by the United Kingdom government. International law requires that territorial application of treaty obligations of signatory state parties require the consent of the territory governments.
“There is no doubt that this government and this country democratically is asking for that consent and telling the United Kingdom the direction of which we wish to travel,” he added.
“I strongly expect that the UK government will listen to the democratic voice of the people of this country.
“And I would urge, urge, those that are listening, whether they be on Government House or whether they be in White Hall to understand that this government takes democracy seriously. And if the people of this country elect us here to do a job, we are going to advance their wishes.”
In the words of the Attorney General, he said: “This Bill will usher in lawful regulation of all such activities involved—directly or ancillary—to the cultivation, import, export, production, sale, supply, use or transport of cannabis or medicinal cannabis or products derived from cannabis or medicinal cannabis in Bermuda.
“Provisions in the Bill will permit lawful activities relating to the cannabis plant, medicinal cannabis, cannabis products and cannabis-infused food products. It also grants monitoring, inspection and enforcement powers to the regulator: The Cannabis Licensing Authority.
“The lawful activities associated with cannabis will also include personal adult-use and consumption of lawfully obtained cannabis plant material, medicinal cannabis, cannabis products and cannabis-infused food products for persons 21 years of age or older. It is expected that lawful access to cannabis will reduce the illicit trade in cannabis and the associated harms.”