In March, Bermuda’s Parliament passed The Cannabis Licensing Act 2022, a bill to legalize marijuana and create a governing framework for regulated cultivation and sales. Because of Bermuda’s status as a British Overseas Territory, the law required the assent of Queen Elizabeth II and the government of the United Kingdom to become effective. But the Queen, whose 70-year reign ended with her death on Thursday, declined to give her assent to the bill. On Tuesday, Bermuda Gov. Rena Lalgie announced that the Queen, through her representatives, had refused to approve the legislation.
“I previously announced that I had reserved the Cannabis Licensing Bill 2022 for the signification of her majesty’s pleasure under Section 35 (2) of the Bermuda Constitution,”
Lalgie, who was appointed governor by the U.K. government, added that the decision to deny cannabis legalization in Bermuda was based on the requirements of international drug treaties signed by the governments of both Bermuda and the United Kingdom.
“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 U.K. and Bermuda under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances,” the governor wrote in her statement.
Government of Bermuda Responds
Attorney General Kathy Lynn Simmons responded to the refusal to assent to the cannabis legalization measure for the Bermudian government, saying the move was “disappointing, but not surprising, given the confines of our constitutional relationship with the UK government and their archaic interpretation of the narcotic conventions.” She added that the island nation would continue to pursue marijuana legalization.
“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,”
Professor Peter Clegg, an expert on the British Overseas Territories at the University of the West of England, said that it was the first time in recent memory that the U.K. had intervened to block a law.
“Normally, it’s almost an automatic process,” said Clegg. “There is an understanding that each territory has its own democratically elected government, and there’s a high degree of autonomy and self-government. (Intervention) is very, very unusual, because there’s a recognition of the likely controversy it would cause, by having power coming from the Crown used to stop the local parliament from passing a piece of legislation.”
Denial of Cannabis Legalization in Bermuda: A Constitutional Crisis
Government observers say the decision to deny cannabis legalization in Bermuda is likely to create a constitutional crisis for newly sworn-in Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took control of the Tory government on Tuesday. There is speculation that the decision was likely made by Truss herself, who served as Foreign Secretary before being elevated to Prime Minister this week.
British Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Overseas Territories, criticized the Foreign Office for the decision.
“One of the last acts of Liz Truss at the Foreign Office has been to politicize the Queen by forcing the Governor of Bermuda to not give assent to a bill that would have legalized recreational cannabis. This was a perfectly legitimate law, which had public support and should not have been struck down in this way.”
Clegg said there would likely be a “heated” response from local leaders.
“They’re testing the conventions and the constitutional practice, which links the U.K. to Bermuda in this case.”
Bermudian Premier David Burt has reportedly not yet commented on the U.K. nixing the self-governing territory’s bid to legalize marijuana. But last year, he said doing so would destroy the relationship between Bermuda and Britain.
“If Her Majesty’s representative in Bermuda does not give assent to something that has been passed lawfully and legally under this local government, this will destroy the relationship we had with the United Kingdom,” Burt said.