Virgin Islands Inches Closer to Adult-Use Cannabis, Expungements

Two bills were introduced that would legalize adult-use pot and expunge prior cannabis convictions.

Cannabis remains a hot button issue with politically-driven fanfare in the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands. Two bills were introduced in the Virgin Islands on Oct. 24: One that would legalize cannabis for adult use and another that would expunge eligible cases of cannabis convictions.

Bill No. 21-0160 would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over, and Bill No. 21-0137 would pave a way to expunge eligible cannabis convictions. After at least two previous attempts, government officials continue to push forward a workable bill.

Both bills were sponsored by Sen. Janelle Sarauw, who has been working on cannabis reform for some time. “It has been a very cumbersome process to get these bills to where they are today,” she wrote in a press release, which she also posted on Facebook, referring to past promises to get legislation going on the islands.

“Although there have been many politically driven false narratives about this cannabis legislation, I am proud of the work done to ensure that locals and minorities are not locked out of the industry and have an opportunity to participate in the economic potential of the industry — from farming, to dispensaries, to incentives for boutique labs, and micro energy providers,” Sarauw wrote.

“To ignore those lessons would be foolish,” Sarauw continued. “As a political scientist, but most importantly as an elected representative of the people, it is my job to do the due diligence to protect the masses and the best interest of our residents by creating equity in opportunity.”

The 69-page legalization bill covers just about any provision that you’d expect in a U.S. state bill. Under the legalization bill, an Office of Cannabis Regulation (OCR) would issue business licenses, oversee the industry, and set rules on advertising, packaging, and labeling. Edibles would be capped at 100 mg THC with 10 mg doses. Licensing fees would be imposed and a potential 50 cent per gram tax would be imposed on cultivators who sell cannabis to other licensees. The bill would include several equity components.

Under the expungement bill, people with past cannabis convictions can petition the courts to clear convictions for violations of up to two ounces of cannabis.

On Aug. 10, the V.I. Cannabis Advisory Board (VICAB) in the U.S. Virgin Islands unanimously approved draft regulations for the territory’s medical cannabis program. On Aug. 12, the Office of Cannabis Regulations posted the draft publicly. Long story short, the timeline didn’t adhere very well. Gov. Bryan’s administration was blamed by Sen. Sarauw for delaying the rollout of medical cannabis earlier on the islands.

Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. proposed an earlier version of the Cannabis Use Act in 2019, and introduced another version in 2020. Recently, Bryan’s re-election campaign fired back and slammed Sen. Sarauw for failing to fulfill promises to legalize cannabis, which she said in 2021. But it was the pressure put on by the governor that may have contributed to Sen. Sarauw’s recent actions to release the new pieces of legislation.

Sen. Sarauw herself and fellow candidate Sen. Kurt Vialet, who is against cannabis legalization, are both running to de-seat Gov. Bryan and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach in the upcoming election on November 8. 

The Virgin Islands is a hotbed for Caribbean music like reggae, so it’s safe to say a lot of tourists go there to smoke. But despite an active medical cannabis program, tourists are warned that public consumption of cannabis is still forbidden in the Virgin Islands. Even with a medical cannabis card, you can not smoke weed in any public space.

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