The Royal Gazette stated that on Sept. 6, Bermuda Governor and Commander-in-Chief Rena Lalgie was “instructed” by United Kingdom Foreign Secretary to refuse to give royal assent to the Cannabis Licensing Bill. “The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs concluded that the Bill, as currently drafted, is not consistent with obligations held by the UK and Bermuda under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. I have informed the Premier and relayed the UK’s continued desire to work with Bermuda on reforms within the scope of our existing international obligations,” Lalgie said.
According to the U.K. Parliament, royal assent is final approval for a bill to become law. “Once a bill has completed all the parliamentary stages in both Houses, it is ready to receive royal assent,” the U.K. parliament states.
This news occurred on the same day that Liz Truss became U.K. Prime Minister (PM), replacing former PM Boris Johnson.
Media reports that the denial of approval for Bermuda’s bill has caused tension in relations between the U.K. and Bermuda. Bermuda Attorney General Kathy Lynn Simmons explained that this won’t be the end for cannabis in the country. “Disappointing, but not surprising, given the confines of our constitutional relationship with the UK government and their archaic interpretation of the narcotic conventions,” Simmons said. “The people of Bermuda have democratically expressed their desire for a regulated cannabis licensing regime, following the strong endorsement at the ballot box and an extensive public consultation process. The Government of Bermuda intends to continue to advance this initiative, within the full scope of its constitutional powers, in keeping with our 2020 general election platform commitment.”
The Bermuda House of Assembly approved the Cannabis Licensing Bill in March 2022, which then moved to Gov. Lalgie for royal assent. However, not all legislators were in support of the cannabis bill.
Bermuda has two political parties: the One Bermuda Alliance and the Progressive Labour Party (PLP). One Bermuda Alliance’s Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Scott Pearman describes the bill as “deeply flawed.” In April, he said that there was a “high likelihood” that Lalgie wouldn’t grant royal assent and the bill would not become law. Pearman explained that the bill was a flagship initiative of current Premier Edward Burt, who is also the leader of the PLP, and “almost half of his PLP MPs did not vote for the Bill.”
“It was deeply flawed—no matter what position you hold on the cannabis debate, this particular Bill was not for you. The Premier has been well aware of the U.K.’s treaty obligations throughout,” Pearman continued. “His own attorney-general pointed out the U.K.’s treaty obligations in parliament when the Bill was debated the first time in February 2021. The premier then stated publicly in November 2021 that he had no intention of tailoring his Bill to satisfy the U.K.’s conventions obligations. So, it was [PM Edward] David Burt’s choice to steam ahead as he did, rather than seek consensus and compromise. It should come as no surprise to anyone that royal assent has not been granted on this Bill. And it should certainly not surprise Premier Burt.”
Current Bermuda law states that no criminal offenses would be issued if a person carries seven grams of cannabis or less, as directed by The Misuse of Drugs (Decriminalization of Cannabis) Amendment Act of 2017. However, the act does not make it legal to “consume, cultivate, traffic or import cannabis in any quantity.”