Government budgets $50,000 for work on legalisation of Cannabis
A budget has been earmarked to continue work on a “world-class” legal cannabis regime for Bermuda, MPs heard – despite the legislation getting turned down by Britain last year.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, told the House of Assembly during Monday’s Budget debate that the Ministry of Legal Affairs would put approximately $50,000 into more work on the legalisation of the drug.
Legal cannabis was an election platform pledge of the Progressive Labour Party for the General Election of October 2020.
Ms Simmons noted that the Governor, Rena Lalgie, had denied Royal Assent to Bermuda’s cannabis legislation in September 2022, “as the Bill was not supported by the UK Government”.
“The Bill outlined a framework for a regulated cannabis regime for Bermuda which would be world-class,” she added.
In her refusal last year to sign off on the legislation, Ms Lalgie cited its clash with “obligations held by the UK and Bermuda under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances”.
At the time, Ms Simmons called the decision an “archaic interpretation of the narcotic conventions”.
David Burt had earlier warned that refusal to approve the cannabis legislation threatened to “destroy” the island’s relationship with Britain.
Legal experts have pointed to potential legal options for remedying the standoff.
MPs heard yesterday that “forging ahead, the Government continues to recognise the myriad benefits that cannabis reform can bring”.
The Attorney-General added: “The ministry headquarters will continue the advancement of this initiative.”
She said approximately $50,000 had been allocated for “the projected administration” of the cannabis regime for Bermuda. The Royal Gazette requested details from the ministry.
Attorney-General on Sovereignty, Divorce, Public Guardian
The Government is to continue to explore options for self-governance for Bermuda, Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, said during Monday’s Budget debate on legal affairs.
A $50,000 report commissioned by the Government and tabled in the House last December has set a “benchmark” for assessing Bermuda’s readiness for full self-government, Ms Simmons said.
“It is the Government’s view that constitutional reform in today’s context would be incomplete if it does not include the exploration of options for the full self-governance of Bermuda – whether that is by way of sovereignty or one of the other internationally recognised pathways such as integration or free association.
“The Government intends to take a wider scope to constitutional reform, encompassing a mature approach to discussions with the UK Government about self-determination for Bermuda.”
Ms Simmons said that would run alongside “public engagement at home for a wide-ranging community discussion” – which would be “further elucidated over the next year”.
Other initiatives highlighted were getting faultless divorce law “fully implemented” to modernise the island’s matrimonial law.
Ms Simmons said it would “aid in the reduction of conflicts between persons applying to the courts for divorce, nullity of marriage or judicial separation”.
She pledged “a formal update to the general public on this initiative very soon”.
She also signalled that an office of the public guardian was in the works to protect vulnerable people in the courts.
Ms Simmons said a policy document was in “the final stages of production”, and would be “quite imminent“.
The renewed commitment towards legal cannabis was dismissed by Scott Pearman, the Shadow Attorney-General, who said the One Bermuda Alliance had voted against the legislation “not once but twice”.
Asked about the allocation of funds towards a seemingly stalled venture, Mr Pearman said: “What does $50,000 get you these days?”
He added that the OBA was on record as supporting medical cannabis and decriminalising possession of small amounts.
But he criticised the Bill as “not about the freedom to smoke cannabis if that is what you wish to do”.
“It was completely about money. It was used as a device, in my opinion, to try to pick a fight with the UK. I’ve said that publicly before and I repeat that.”
He added: “It’s unfortunate that the PLP in its drive towards independence can’t just come out and say they want independence.
“Instead, they dress it up with niceties about constitutional reform.”
Mr Pearman dismissed the cannabis Bill as “corporate cannabis” favouring “a single source importer” rather than letting individuals to grow their own cannabis.
He said he had already listed more than 15 of the Bill’s flaws – including giving the police the right to enter a property without a warrant.
Mr Pearman was candid about using cannabis “in my youth”. “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.”
He said he was not a user of the drug nowadays, but acknowledged cannabis was “a part of our life”.
“There are people who wish to use cannabis and it is not my goal as a politician to stand in their way.”
The Attorney-General said work on the expunging of criminal convictions for possession of small amounts of cannabis continued, with 49 applications received to date.
The programme requires no extra funding in the 2023-24 Budget because expunging convictions was dealt with under the ministry’s existing resources.
Kathy Lynn Simmons told the House that in some cases the work had faced “challenges finding reliable records which identify the exact amount of cannabis a person may have been convicted of possessing”.
But she said the ministry was engaged in “troubleshooting” in collaboration with the police service.