Premier David Burt maintains that the new Cannabis Licensing Act will receive the Governor’s Royal Assent.
Speaking at the latest COVID briefing on Tuesday (Feb 23), he said: “This Act ushers in a new regulatory regime, licensing all activities involved to cultivation, import, export, production, research, sale, supply, use or transport of cannabis or medicinal cannabis in Bermuda.”
The Bill was piloted in the House by the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs & Constitutional Reform, Kathy Simmons, “after an extensive consultation process with the experts in health, law enforcement, and finance”, he added.
“The Government also consulted the public throughout the development of the Cannabis Licensing Act to ensure that it reflected the desires of the Bermudian people. The feedback the Government received was that there was a desire for change to our cannabis laws which would permit licensing and regulations for cannabis activities to displace the illicit market,” said Mr Burt.
“Regulation and licensing will ensure that Bermuda benefits economically from the cannabis industry. It will also ensure that it provides easy and simple access to medicinal cannabis, which is right now, very difficult due to our complex regulations.
“The Government is committed to ensuring licensing is accessible to those Bermudians who have been negatively affected by cannabis prohibition, the majority of whom are black Bermudians.
“The Government anticipates they will take the opportunity to use their expertise to open businesses, conduct research and contribute to this newly regulated sector of our economy. I thank the Attorney-General and her team for their outstanding work in preparing this Bill, and I look forward to the Bill’s progress the Senate next week.”
He also thanked “the Members of Parliament for the Progressive Labour Party who were encouraged to speak and vote with their conscience rather than in line with the party”.
But when asked if he had held any discussions with the Governor, or any former Governor, on the new regulations and whether or not it would receive Royal Assent, the Premier refused to comment, saying he would not disclose the nature of any discussions with the Governor publicly.
“Any paper that goes to Cabinet is shared with the Governor at the time of it coming to Cabinet,” said Mr Burt.
“Every week, just as the Prime Minister of the UK meets with the Queen every week, the Premier of Bermuda meets with the Governor.
“I will never, ever disclose the conversations in public that I held in my ‘weekly audiences’.”
He also maintained that if approved by the Senate, the legislation could receive Royal Assent in spite of the concerns raised in the House last week.
“The Government laid out its position on this Bill. The Government went through a lengthy and extensive consultation process,” said Mr Burt.
“The Government took external legal advice with regard to international treaties and regulations. The Government is not going to put forward something that they do not believe can conform and comply with that.
“If our regulations were modelled after what is in place in Canada – another realm of the commonwealth where the Queen serves as head of state – and those are acceptable there, I cannot possibly imagine why they would not be acceptable here.”
But the Minister, who piloted the Bill, Kathy Lynn Simmons, stated in her brief last week, that the legislation, as written, would not get Royal Assent from the Governor.
“The UK Government through Government House has confirmed support for Bermuda’s policy and legislation only so far as it does not contravene the UK’s international obligations,” said Ms Simmons.
“To be clear, the Governor has indicated that she will be unable to give assent to any legislation that contravenes those international obligations,” she added.
Those comments were echoed this week by former Premier and One Bermuda Alliance MP, Michael Dunkley, who accused Premier Burt of conjuring up a confrontation with the Governor to garner support for Independence.
But the Premier maintained last night that the Bill would receive Royal Assent.
“My view is very simple,” he said. “We execute things based on what is outlined in our platform.
“There is one thing that is clear – the Government which I lead takes measures that are put inside platforms seriously and advances them, and the only time those are are changed is through consultation,” he added.
“We live in a time, a point and place where we can be free to make our own laws and Bermuda has a long tradition of internal self governance and that tradition, I expect in this case, will be upheld and respected.”