The U.S. Virgin Islands has legalized adult-use cannabis after Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. signed a legalization bill into law Jan. 18.
“From the beginning of the Bryan-Roach Administration, we have worked towards the legalization of the adult use of cannabis, and today, with the hard work of the members of the 34th Legislature and prior Legislatures and the efforts of my team, we are finally here and finally signing into law the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act,” Bryan said in a public statement. “This act incorporates key aspects of my original proposal, such as one streamlined regulatory scheme for both medicinal and adult use, enforcement powers for the Office of Cannabis Regulation, entrepreneurship and job opportunities for Virgin Islands residents, and the creation of a revenue stream to help fund critical government initiatives and operations.”
Lawmakers approved the legislation, called the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act, last month alongside a bill to automatically expunge the records of individuals with past cannabis-related convictions.
Former Sen. Janelle Sarauw introduced the pair of bills in October.
“There’s been no sense of urgency on cannabis, there really hasn’t,” Sarauw said Wednesday, according to The Virgin Islands Daily News. “There’s just been a bunch of air-talk, basically. We’re a long ways off.”
The bill requires adult-use cannabis regulations to be adopted within two years, but Sarauw told the news outlet that it may take up to five years for the law to be implemented.
On the other hand, Richard Evangelista, commissioner for the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Office of Cannabis Regulation, indicated last month during the legislative session that, if enacted now, the law “would take between 18 and 24 months to implement,” according to The Virgin Islands Daily News.
The 104-page Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act legalizes cannabis use for adults 21 and older, as well as for sacramental use by members of established Rastafari nonprofit organizations, the news outlet reported. Group members are also permitted to grow cannabis on private property for personal use, according to The Virgin Islands Daily News.
Applicants for adult-use cannabis business licenses must have lived in the Virgin Islands for at least 10 of the last 15 years, the news outlet reported, which lawmakers hope will encourage collaboration between local residents and outside investors.
The bill levies an 18% sales tax on cannabis, with the revenue generated flowing to the Department of Human Services, as well as social services tackling homelessness, substance abuse and counseling, according to The Virgin Islands Daily News. Registered medical cannabis patients will be exempt from the tax.
The legislation allocates $1 million from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund to provide operating funds for the Office of Cannabis Regulation for two years, according to the news outlet, as well as $250,000 to the governor’s office to create a task force responsible for expunging cannabis convictions.
The new law includes provisions to automatically expunge convictions involving the simple possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis, according to The St. Thomas Source.
During the signing ceremony Wednesday, Bryan took these provisions further and pardoned all simple cannabis convictions prosecuted under Virgin Islands law, the news outlet reported.
“Today, I proclaim that all criminal convictions for the simple possession of marijuana under the Virgin Islands Code are fully and completely pardoned,” Bryan said in a public statement. “My office estimates that approximately 300 individuals have been convicted of the simple possession of marijuana in the last 20 years.”
The Virgin Islands is also in the process of launching a medical cannabis market; voters approved medical cannabis legalization in the 2014 election, and the Legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act in 2018 to implement the program.
The V.I. Cannabis Advisory Board (VICAB) approved the final draft rules for the medical cannabis market in August, and sales were initially expected to launch in 2023.
The VICAB planned to meet and approve the draft regulations for the medical cannabis program by the end of December, according to The Virgin Islands Daily News, but Evangelista said the meeting was postponed until Bryan acted on the adult-use bill.
Evangelista told the news outlet earlier this month that if Bryan signed the adult-use legislation into law, “then the proposed rules and regs for medical cannabis would be null and void,” but that the board was prepared to act on the medical cannabis draft rules if Bryan vetoed the adult-use bill.