In a historic moment, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. proposed legislation during a press conference on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019, to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana. Introducing the legislation to the 33rd Legislature, the governor highlighted the importance of the regulation of the marijuana industry, including applying health measures to ensure the continued health of users and non-users.
The legislation called on the 33rd Legislature to consider legalizing marijuana at a recreational level throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands. Bryan has proposed an amendment to the initial Cannabis law title XIX Chapter 34 “the legalization of Cannabis in the United States Virgin Islands.” The amendment, according to Bryan, will be tourism-focused and sustainable and will include implementing a local cannabis registry to enable regulation.
The governor hopes that the revenue from this industry can be the solution to the current deficit at the Government Employee Retirement System (GERS). Bryan also noted that it was important to seek expungement of records for people who were arrested for less than 1 pound (lb) of marijuana. At a joint press conference earlier this year with the Virgin Islands Attorney General, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and the Virgin Islands Fire Service, the governor first mentioned publicly that his administration was exploring ways to offer a form of “reparations” for individuals with a record.
The law will also allow for the use of marijuana as a recognizable religious sacrament for the Rastafarian community, which could expand religious rights for the group and that of other religious groups in the territory. If passed, the legislation would cover cannabis use in its raw stage as well as cannabis products such as edibles, drinks, and oils.
With the new bill, Bryan also seeks to link the U.S. Virgin Islands with existing dispensaries across the United States while also regulating cultivation amongst local farmers. Federal authority to regulate marijuana is based on the Commerce Clause. But state authority to regulate marijuana is based on traditional police and public health powers and the Tenth Amendment. Connecting dispensaries and shipments overseas would require federal enforcement to adopt the territory’s new policy on recreational and medical use.
Individuals 21 years of age and over will be free to use marijuana and its products recreationally, while those under the age of 21 may use the substance for medicinal purposes. The new industry is expected to produce $20 million a year from both the medicinal and recreational industry and public officials in support of legalization believe it will provide an economic boost to the Virgin Islands economy and could also fix lapses in cash for public entities like GERS.