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Bermuda Has Plans to Legalize Cannabis But is Wary of UK Approval

January 27, 2021 10:30 am ET
Bermuda Has Plans to Legalize Cannabis But is Wary of UK Approval

Bermuda is an island that belongs to the British Overseas Territory and has become well known for its tropical terrain and pink sand beaches. Now this island of paradise is taking its first steps towards legalizing adult-use and medical cannabis consumption. Excitement and concern fill the atmosphere as citizens patiently wait for the outcome of their cannabis legalization efforts. These contradictory feelings come as a result of the British Virgin Islands’ attempt to take similar steps that were ultimately denied by the United Kingdom. While the prospect of another legalization win for cannabis is exciting, the outlook for Bermuda’s legalization is uncertain.

The UK’s Relationship with Bermuda and BVI

Although Bermuda is typically spoken of as one island, it is actually made up of 181 islands, all of which are essentially governed by the Government of the United Kingdom. Although Bermuda has an internal government with its own constitution and cabinet of ministers, the authorities only enact local laws- which means that it does not have a seat in the United Nations. The extent of authority is best explained in the following statement:

“All business between Bermuda and the governments of other countries are handled by Britain. The Bermuda Government controls, manages and overseas all aspects of Bermuda in Bermuda except for defence, foreign affairs and internal security which come under the remit of the British Governor”. Additionally, it should be understood that just because the United Kingdom governs Bermuda, it does not mean that Bermuda is tied to the UK laws. A similar relationship to this can be expected between the British Virgin Islands and the United Kingdom.”

The British Virgin Islands put forth the Cannabis Licensing Act, which was passed by the country’s elected representatives. However, the United Kingdom representative in the British Virgin Islands has refused to give what is referred to as the Royal Assent. The Royal Assent is essentially like a stamp of approval from the United Kingdom, which is necessary to enact the Cannabis Licensing Act. Since the refusal of the stamp, the representative has received a lot of attention from local media and politicians who are demanding to know why it is being rejected as well as having called the delay of approving the bill “an insult

Bermuda’s Current Cannabis Legalization Efforts

Similar to the British Virgin Islands, the Cannabis Licensing Act of 2020 was presented to the House of Assembly. Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Kathy Lynn Simmons, was the one who presented the act to Bermuda’s House of Assembly, which will (hopefully) enable the establishment of a cannabis industry.  The future of the act is unknown as it is pending the approval of the newly sworn Governor, Rena Lalgia, and the United Kingdom. 

In support of the cause, the Hon. Simmons used the example of when the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs approved a proposal to remove cannabis from its current scheduling. She stated that “this change by the United Nations oversight bodies finally removes some of the structural hurdles for emerging cannabis industries in jurisdictions near and far” and that “It effectively allows for greater national competence for signatories to enact legislation allowing greater medical and scientific uses of cannabis without falling afoul of the various international narcotics conventions”.

The Cannabis Licensing Act will have two tiers of cultivation licenses which include growing for personal use and for commercial use. The act is also aimed at regulating cannabis retail in terms of sales and consumption. The Hon. Simmons explained that “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”. The act also allows the cannabis authority to monitor, inspect and enforce regulatory powers. 

The Cannabis Licensing Act contains the following, amongst many others, regarding the cannabis industry:

  • Restrictions on certain strains
  • Establishes and explains the cannabis licensing authority and its functions. 
  • Financial provisions.
  • Eligibility to apply for licensing. 
  • Types of licensing as well as application and fees for a license. 
  • The designation of inspectors for cultivation
  • Establishes and explains offenses and sentencing. 
  • Rules of regulations and compliance. 

According to the Royal Gazette, Hon. Simmons describes the legislation as anagile regulatory framework that can develop and grow as needed and adapt as other models are introduced internationally”. While nothing can currently be found on whether the United Kingdom has weighed in on Bermuda’s cannabis act, one could assume given the history. 

Why Won’t the UK Approve Cannabis in its Overseas Territories?

After being quite tight-lipped on the act from the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the UK representative, Augustus Jaspert, explained that for the bill to pass, the respective representatives in Bermuda would have to work together with the UK officials to establish such a bill into law. In a statement, Mr. Jaspert explained that “At present, the Home Office acts as the licensing authority for narcotics in BVI, including medical narcotics. The Cannabis Licensing Act would change that, establishing in law a new authority in BVI that would take over this responsibility from the Home Office. For this to happen, BVI and the Home Office need to work together to take preliminary steps to transfer the authority and enter into a Memorandum of Understanding, which is a binding agreement between the two Governments. That way, there can be certainty for all involved that BVI’s new industry will not breach the 1961 Convention or any international law now or in the future”. 

He then continued on to say that, “The drug now sits within Schedule I alongside drugs such as cocaine and opium – recognition of the fact that it can have therapeutic benefits if used in a safe and controlled way, but nonetheless, remains a dangerous drug that has the potential to threaten public health. It has been important to follow these debates very closely in order to consider the possible implications for this bill”. With statements such as this and the fact that cannabis is still illegal in the United Kingdom, one has to wonder whether any amount of collaboration between the UK and Bermuda will yield favorable results for cannabis and the citizens of Bermuda. 

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