For many who thought the OBA Government represented new hope, the last few weeks and months have been disappointing.

While this has been particularly distressing for those who had hoped the OBA represented a change towards ‘good governance’ — illusions shattered by the JetGate revelations — those who had hoped for a more rational and progressive approach to drugs in Bermuda have seen those hopes dashed under the new Premier.

While the PLP ran on a 2012 platform calling for reclassifying certain drugs — a politically safe way of calling for decriminalizing marijuana — the OBA’s 2012 platform was silent on the question of drugs.  

Thus, the announcement of a review of drug laws, specifically marijuana, in late 2013, and the subsequent Cannabis Reform Collaborative (CRC), was a pleasant surprise.

While many regarded the CRC initiative with suspicion — seeing it as a stunt to win over progressive voters without actually committing the OBA to anything — full credit must be given to the CRC for producing a largely comprehensive and well referenced report, complete with policy recommendations. It is a remarkable document, cutting through a lot of misinformation regarding marijuana resulting from the decade’s old ‘war on drugs’.

CRC members, and others, were no doubt hopeful an informed debate would ensue, one in which their various policy recommendations would be debated and supported on the merit of the evidence they brought forward. A bold new vision with regard to marijuana in Bermuda might have taken shape.  

And more than that, there was a chance for a wide-ranging ‘big conversation’ on drugs to emerge from this debate.

Alas, this was not to be.

The new Premier sank those hopes at the very moment he tabled the CRC report for debate.  

He set out that the Government was only interested in a very limited and very narrow reform involving only some form of decriminalization.  

This has been followed by more recent statements by the new AG, who has dismissed the concept of medicinal marijuana and outlined a return to the pre-2013 situation where police could give cautions for small amounts of personal possession rather than sending all such cases to the DPP.

Ultimately, the hopes of a rational, evidence-based progressive approach to marijuana — and drugs in general — have been dashed by these comments.

The new Premier likes to portray himself as a ‘strong leader’.

I suppose this is very much open to interpretation.  

To me, a ‘strong leader’ would be one who looks at the evidence base, both locally and overseas, and makes decisions based on that, regardless of whether the evidence flies in the face of his support base or initial position.  

And a ‘strong leader’ would then confront his support base with this evidence (and ethics to boot) and push for what is the right thing to do — and not what is the politically expedient thing to do.

Sir Henry Tucker, the first UBP Leader, despite his many faults, did this when he championed the right to vote for women in 1944, and the push for desegregation later. While he may have done this more out of calculation than ethics, he still led, often in the face of conservative reaction from his white oligarchic support base.

Premier Dunkley is no Sir Henry Tucker.  

Where his predecessor led, Premier Dunkley abdicates.  

Rejecting all the evidence in favour of far-reaching reforms on marijuana (and drugs generally) for the sake of shoring up a conservative minority — which happens to be a key support base for his party — is not strong leadership.  

Rather it is the weak leadership of short-term political expediency and political cowardice.