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The Struggle for Cannabis Legalization in Bermuda

Bermuda has been engaged in an interesting legal dispute over cannabis reform. 

As of last week, legislation intended to create the first guidelines for the local industry—the Cannabis Licensing Act, allowing both recreational use and creating a regulated framework for at least the import of cannabis—was reintroduced in the House of Assembly. On Monday, March 28, it passed with 18 votes to 6. The bill now moves to the House of Lords. It will likely be approved there next week because senators are limited in their ability to veto legislation.

For a second attempt through Parliament, the bill is not without its controversies, particularly it is under heat for being a “bad bill.” Indeed, the main criticism of the legislation is that not only is it exactly the same as the bill that tanked last year. The One Bermuda Alliance, an advocacy group, claimed that the bill only benefits those in control of the cannabis importation. 

Others are voicing criticisms at those who wish to see reform of cannabis.

There is also another problem. The UK will be in a conflict of interest if any legislation legalizing recreational drug use is passed. Bermuda remains a British colony, and is therefore still subject to British law. To avoid these legal problems, Bermuda must remove cannabis from the controlled substance list. It has been in place since the 1970s.

Bermuda’s Cannabis Reform

The Supreme Court of Bermuda ruled that medical cannabis reform was legal in November 2016. In December 2017, cannabis was made illegal. That said, the practical implications—namely, that patients could only import one gram a year—predictably created conditions where patients turned to the black market. Although this limit was increased in the future, patients had to still pay the cost of applying to import cannabis. 

In December 2017, the Decriminalization of Cannabis Amendment Act was passed, making it illegal to possess up to 7 grams of cannabis.

The Medicinal Cannabis Bill was released by the Bermudian government two years later. The Medicinal Cannabis Authority was to oversee cultivation, production, export, manufacturing and research as well as transport. The bill also included the creation of a registry of strains and the issuing of ID cards as well as other regulations required for the establishment of a centrally controlled cannabis oversight infrastructure. Officially, the bill was presented in the Bermudian Parliamentary House in December 2020. After passing in this chamber, it was rejected by the Senate. The Senate rejected it on March 3, 2020.

Global Cannabis Reform is a dire necessity

Bermuda is not alone in trying to determine how to proceed within the framework of international regulations that regulate cannabis. This will need to be done at the UN. The UN has not yet removed cannabis from Schedule I on an international basis.

This has geopolitical consequences. Last time the matter was up for vote, the US and China both refused to remove the Schedule I designation at a global level. This left it up to individual sovereign countries.

This situation creates a Catch-22. To prevent legalization from happening, those who oppose it want to continue to quote UN law in order to stop change.

This has not stopped legalization efforts from going forward—it has just slowed them down. Legalization is currently underway in several countries, including the USA and many European countries, as well as in various African countries.

It is therefore unlikely that Bermuda with its strong tourism industry will delay the conversation indefinitely due to all of the legal complexities.