The OBA does seem to have a knack of needlessly burning political capital.
And the last 24 hours sure seems to be quite a whirlwind for them, with a number of twists and turns relating to cannabis reform.
The PLP’s Proposal
Yesterday the PLP put forward what, on a first look, seemed like quite a good amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, an amendment which would have decriminalised possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana. As 20 grams is currently the statutory amount that triggers the charge of ‘intent to supply’, it seems like quite a good number to use for decriminalisation.
I had a similar position in my 2012 General Election platform – “Decriminalise personal possession of marijuana up to one ounce” which is about 28 grams, if I’ve got my sums right.
I considered that a vital first step to a wider reform initiative, including a discussion of all the pros and cons and so forth. To me, decriminalising personal possession would ensure no more of our people are criminalised over what I consider a trivial amount, and it just seemed the right thing to do as part of a wider reform process.
So, I have no problem with the PLP’s proposed amendment and I think there’s no reason why we cannot make it law while we have a wider discussion.
The OBA’s Reaction
Minister Dunkley, the relevant Minister, blasted the PLP’s proposal as ‘reckless and not thought through’.
Reading the Minister’s reaction I couldn’t help but feel it was harsh and negative in tone. It disregarded the reasonings behind the proposed bill – which seem quite reasonable to me – and ignored the fact that the OBA has the ability to amend such proposed bills, and that only the Government can introduce more thorough reforms – money bills.
Quite frankly, it was an unnecessarily negative reaction by the OBA, and one which is bound to make some people question the OBA’s commitment to collaboration and willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion on an issue that the OBA has previously indicated its support.
It cannot help but make people question the sincerity of the OBA and whether or not they genuinely support what they’ve been indicating.
And to argue that an issue like this needs public input, right after the OBA has so callously denied the people a promised referendum on casino gambling – well, it’s not a good look for the OBA.
The Minister also seems to be presupposing the outcome of the Cannabis Reform Committee (CRC), which was set up by him to provide an objective review of all issues on cannabis reform.
Again, I see no reason why we cannot decriminalise personal possession now and continue the work of the CRC.
And on the issue of the CRC…
On the one hand I congratulate the OBA for moving ahead with the CRC.
On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to be going very well.
As noted above, the Minister’s overly harsh reaction to the PLP’s proposal is going to lose a lot of trust for the OBA on this issue.
More damaging though is today’s sudden resignation of one of the members, Eron Hill, who in resigning has accused the CRC of having an ulterior motive and also revealing that two other members have also resigned, Kamal Worrell and Krystl Assan.
I know the Chair of the CRC, Mr Hatfield, and I have complete faith in his genuineness. All the same, the accusations being levelled by Mr Hill seem to indicate that all is not well behind the scenes, and this is going to further burn up political capital for this initiative and the OBA overall.
It’s not clear why the other two members have resigned – one appears to be due to a conflict of interest over a legal case, and the other due to pursuing further education – but the fact that three have resigned, and we, the people, only find out about this through the very public resignation of one of them, well, it’s not a good look and adds to the perception that things are not good.
It’s not clear what the ‘ulterior motive’ that Mr Hill speaks of is, but there is a very real risk that the process may go up in smoke from here on in, with suspicions sowed or reinforced and the OBA’s poor public relations approach (which pre-election was excellent) further burning up – and needlessly so – political capital.
The former leader of the OBA, who now writes the occasional OpEd for the RG, recently wrote about the dangers of a ‘deficit of trust’.
In the article, he noted that:
“…trust once lost is often irretrievable. It takes much time and effort to rebuild and restore. The best approach as far as I am aware, and the best antidote to criticism, whether fair or unfair, as far as I know, is and always has been honest and open discourse.”
One fears that the OBA has – and continues – to needlessly be losing the trust of the people.
While there are always zealots, and in our two-party system a large degree of political tribalism, one feels that the OBA is rapidly losing the trust of swing voters and even the less zealous of its core support.
Perhaps it believes this is an acceptable gamble. But with massive issues coming up, from the SAGE report to ‘commercial immigration’, the OBA risks losing the political capital to realise its own plans.
While it’s not clear if a ‘no confidence’ vote in parliament will pass at the moment, the people themselves may feel the need to express a ‘no confidence’ in the OBA if it continues to needlessly alienate the people.