Virgin Islanders Get First Look at Senate Bill Legalizing Cannabis

Two long-awaited bills would legalize marijuana for adult use and erase the records of those convicted of possession. (Photo: detail of the proposed bill)

Residents of the Virgin Islands got their first glimpse Monday of a law legalizing cannabis use for adults and another bill erasing cannabis convictions.

Senator Janelle Sarauw, sponsor of both bills, acknowledged in a written statement that the bills are slow to arrive. “It has been a very cumbersome process to get these bills to where they are today,” she wrote.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. offered his version of the Cannabis Use Act 2019 and again in 2020. Less than two weeks ago, Bryan’s re-election campaign chastised Sarauw for not releasing the legislation despite promises to do so in 2021.

Sarauw and gubernatorial candidate Sen. Kurt Vialet are running to replace Bryan and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach in the Nov. 8 election. Vialet has publicly stated that he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana. Phone messages left at Vialet’s office and home line were not immediately returned.

Although Vialet has slowed progress of medical marijuana legislation, it was the Bryan Sarauw administration that was blamed for the slow rollout of medical marijuana. She accused Bryan of failing to invest in the infrastructure needed to make medical marijuana widely available three years after legislative approval.

The legalization of recreational use bill spans 69 pages, which Sarauw says reflects broad consideration of the impact of the proposed law. She acknowledged naysayers and critics.

“While there have been many politically motivated false narratives about this cannabis legislation, I am proud of the work being done to ensure that locals and minorities are not excluded from the industry and have the opportunity to participate in the economic potential of industry – from agriculture, to dispensaries, to incentives for boutique labs and to micro-energy providers,” Sarauw wrote.

The Adult Use of Cannabis Act released on Monday aims to ensure that all residents of the Virgin Islands have equal opportunity to benefit from the end of marijuana prohibition and are protected from abuse, said she declared.

“The opening up of the cannabis industry across the states has made a lot of people very wealthy; we had to make sure these opportunities were also available to our residents, and not just the more affluent,” Sarauw wrote.

The summary of the bill concludes: “This law aims to strengthen support for local farmers, small business owners, medicinal and sacramental users, and the tourism industry by recognizing cultural and sacramental uses, creating business and financial opportunities for local Virgin Islanders. , increasing VI government revenue by allowing sales to tourists.

The bill suppressing the records of those convicted of marijuana-related crimes would cover anyone caught with less than two ounces. There would be no waiting period for applying to the court for expungement. The bill does not cover pardons for marijuana-related convictions: someone caught with cannabis and an illegal firearm would still have the crime committed with a firearm on their record.

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Norman D. Briggs