Up in Smoke?

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

The reaction from the OBA to the PLP’s proposal was, however, swift and negative.

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.

smoke

No Confidence?

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.

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3 thoughts on “Up in Smoke?

  1. The PLP had 14 years to legalize weed and to end conscription. Everything the PLP are doing now is nothing more than a publicity stunt, or maybe they want to legalize it all of a sudden because MP’s have to be drug tested now! Lol

    Another unbalanced post. Once again, as an independent, you’ve chosen to only criticize the OBA.

  2. Hi Justin, thank you for commenting.

    I’ll begin by saying that I didn’t realise I had to write ‘unbalanced’ posts. We all have biases, and I make mine clear at the header of this blog ‘socialism for the 21st Century’.

    Now, having said that, the purpose of the post was to look at the OBA Governments’ approach to cannabis reform and whether the way it has been handled has been rather shambolic – which I think it has. Which I think is, in itself, a pity, as I am hopeful for some progressive reform on this issue.

    More importantly, the focus, or subtext, of the post was to call into question the overall handling of ‘optics’ by the OBA since winning power. They had an excellent pre-election media and campaign strategy, but since assuming power they’ve proven rather shambolic as a government – mixed messages, poor handling of issues and controversy, etc.

    The current handling of cannabis reform, well, it seems symptomatic of this tendency by the OBA since winning the election – they keep shooting themselves in the foot and needlessly burning political capital in a very reckless way, in my opinion.

    Now, on the issue of the PLP…

    Yes, you’re right that they had 14 years to do X, Y and Zed.

    It’s also true, however, that on the issue of conscription, it only became a political issue (as in a critical mass was reached in terms of electoral consciousness as a result of various factors) around the 2007 issue, and a particularly important issue (it got bigger as an issue after 2007) for the 2012 election – with both parties only then proposing moving away from conscription (the Opposition, then the UBP, never – as I recall it – advocated ending conscription until the the OBA in the 2012 election, also).

    Similarly, while there were calls in the PLP almost since they first formed the Government in 1998 to adopt more progressive stances regarding cannabis (see the article recently by Mr Devent and Mr Robinson – http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20140124/NEWS02/140129854), it has only really progressed in pace with reforms elsewhere, particularly in the USA. It is with the moves towards decriminalisation/legalisation in various US States that it has become both practical AND acceptable (politically) to initiate reforms on this issue itself.

    The PLP actually began moves towards this, with empowering the police the discretion to issue cautions rather than criminal charges for small amounts (under 20 grams – legislatively possession in excess of 20 grams constitutes intent to supply, which remains a criminal offence at the moment). The OBA has, as I understand it, removed that power from the police and given it to the DPP instead, which to some is seen as a regressive step.

    Furthermore, the PLP 2012 election platform explicitly stated that if elected they would initiate:

    ‘A new sentencing framework and reclassification in relation to different types of drugs’

    “Evaluate the effect of our legislation, such as the Criminal Code, Proceeds of Crime Act and Misuse of Drugs Act, to ensure the laws are relevant and effective in our country’s efforts to counter and eradicate crime.’

    ‘Introduce a new sentencing framework for young people including the establishment of sanctions related to different types of drugs.’

    The OBA released three mini-platforms for the 2012 election, and not one of them had any mention whatsoever regarding cannabis, marijuana or drug reform of any kind.

    To me, it appears more likely that the OBA realised this had become a significant issue (partly due to the PLP’s advocation of it in the 2012 election, partly due to it being advocated by many of the Independent candidates – including myself; others ran exclusively on a marijuana issue, and partly due to events in the USA regarding cannabis reform).

    I also get the impression that the civil service had already begun work on cannabis reform due to direction by the then PLP Government, and having come to power the OBA Government realised that this would probably be something worth pursuing. Whether that’s due to opportunistic politics or something else, I cannot say.

  3. Now, as regards the PLP itself, yes, I can totally accept that this was a carefully calculated move on their part, as was the conscription initiative late last year.

    And so what? The issue to me isn’t so much that the PLP took a calculated action than the fact that the OBA played right into their hands – they walked right into the trap.

    The OBA walked right into the trap over the conscription issue, and they’ve gone and done the same thing a second time. I find that worrying myself.

    The PLP is the Opposition. And they’re being quite a good one at that. And I like that they are not simply criticising the OBA – opposing for the sake of opposing – but they are also taking a pro-active role by presenting alternatives and even putting forward legislative proposals.

    Whether they’re using that approach to score political points, well, so what? They are the Opposition after all, and they are as the Opposition supposed to be a ‘Government-in-waiting’, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job at that.

    And again, the more worrying thing isn’t that the PLP are setting up traps for the OBA, but that the OBA keeps walking into them.

    By adopting this strategy the PLP makes itself look pro-active while also making people question the sincerity of the OBA – it’s pretty much a win-win situation for the PLP.

    The OBA could have defused the trap and reduced the ability of the PLP to undermine the OBA’s political capital while boosting their own. However, instead the OBA just burns up political capital even more.

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