Bermuda Senate rejects controversial cannabis law
HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) – The ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) has reacted angrily after the Senate rejected a controversial law to legalise cannabis, which will now be sent back to the House of Assembly in this British Overseas Territory.
The Cannabis Licensing Act, which sets out a regulatory framework for growing, selling and using the drug, was passed by MPs two weeks ago.
But in the Upper House on Wednesday, senators opposed the legislation, six votes to five, handing a major defeat to the PLP five months after it was re-elected with a huge 24-seat majority in a snap general election.
All three independent senators – who are chosen by the governor – and three Opposition One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) senators voted the Bill down, giving them the majority over the five government senators who voted in favour of it.
Premier David Burt was not immediately available for comment but the PLP chastised the OBA and the independent senators, alleging they had “voted against the will of the Bermudian voter and stood against jobs and opportunities for Bermudians”.
The PLP also questioned the island’s democratic process, claiming that Government’s plans had been stymied by unelected officials “appointed by an unelected, unaccountable governor”.
“The cannabis reform they opposed would have further reduced the criminalisation of Bermudians and created jobs and opportunities for Bermudians,” the party said in a statement following the Senate sitting.
“Now, Bermudians are forced to wait for entrepreneurial opportunities in agriculture, transport, research, manufacturing, and the creation of health products and consumables.
“The Cannabis Reform Bill rejected by the OBA and the governor’s senators would have meant additional revenue for the Government — revenue for social programmes, scholarships, and more. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century that jobs and opportunities, as well as the will of so many Bermudians, can be blocked by a politically rejected opposition and independent senators appointed by an unelected, unaccountable governor,” it added.
The OBA hit back, saying that the “deeply flawed” Bill was rightly rejected because it “failed to address important concerns from the community“.
A joint statement issued by all three OBA senators said: “Cannabis is a complicated issue that requires thoughtful solutions, something the Bill severely lacked.
“There are many who are passionate about cannabis, both for and against. But the Bill in its current form was not the answer. It left too many unanswered questions and needs more time and thought.
“The Senate vote shows there are many Bermudian voices not being heard by the Government. Even within the PLP ranks there are many who recognised privately the numerous flaws in this Bill. They must share these legitimate concerns publicly and put island before party.”
Senate President Joan Dillas-Wright, who cast the decisive vote, spoke during the debate of her work in the field of addiction and medicine.
The former hospital chief executive told the Senate: “I can tell you that even approaching coming today to have this debate on this topic, doctors tell me they have not been informed – they were not consulted. counsellors tell me they have not been involved in the decision. I am surprised, taken aback. I had been told there was broad consultation.”
Wednesday’s vote means a potential confrontation with Governor Rena Lalgie has been averted, at least temporarily.
Lalgie, who arrived in the island in December, had signalled she would not be able to sign the legislation because it would breach the United Kingdom’s drug interdiction treaty obligations.
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