U.S. Virgin Islands Push Rec Industry Forward, Approve Adult-Use MJ Regulations


The United States has seen immense progress surrounding recreational cannabis reform over recent years, and while a number of countries across the globe are currently working to catch up, so too are U.S. territories like the Virgin Islands.

The Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean and consist of main islands Saint Croix, Saint John, and Saint Thomas, along with more than 50 other minor islands. The islands legalized medical cannabis back in 2019, and cannabis possession of up to an ounce has been decriminalized. While lawmakers technically approved recreational legalization in January 2023, the actual implementation of the program has stalled until now.

On Tuesday, a Virgin Islands advisory board finally pushed the legalization law forward after approving a list of proposed rules and regulations surrounding the recreational use and access of cannabis in the region, Associated Press reports. A 30-day public comment period on the proposed regulations is set to begin soon.

The Virgin Islands Recreational Cannabis Regulations Finally Move Forward

“We have been waiting a very long time for this,” advisory board chairperson Dr. Catherine Kean said in response to the recent development.

The law approved in January 2023 allows adults over 21 to possess up to two ounces of cannabis, a half-ounce of cannabis concentrates and one ounce of edible and consumable products. Medical cannabis patients enjoy larger limits and can legally possess up to four ounces of cannabis, one ounce of cannabis concentrates and two ounces of consumable products.

There will also be an 18% tax applied to all recreational dispensary sales, though medical patients are exempt from paying the tax. The current plan deems that 75% of the tax revenue will go toward the general fund. Of that 75%, 15% will go toward behavioral health programs, 5% toward homelessness and 5% for youth programs.

Righting the Wrongs of the Past: Virgin Islands and Criminal Expungement

In line with similar policies implemented by states with recreational cannabis laws, the Virgin Islands have also worked criminal expungements into its regulations. Currently, the board is finalizing a list of people who are qualified to have their cannabis-related criminal records expunged under the territory’s legalization policy.According to board member Positive Nelson, the list will be shared with legislators and the Islands’ Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

Over the past 20 years, approximately 300 people have been convicted of simple cannabis possession, AP reports.

Upon the initial approval of the Virgin Islands’ recreational cannabis law last January, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. highlighted the importance of righting the wrongs of the past as it pertains to cannabis criminalization.

“It is my goal to make sure many of us who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis are afforded every opportunity to participate in this new and legal cannabis industry,” he said.

Laying the Foundation for a New Industry

The law also recognizes the cultural and sacramental uses of cannabis, on top of recreational use. The board is completing a registration system for those using cannabis for medicinal or sacramental purposes to usher in cannabis access by April, according to the board’s executive director Hannah Carty.

Faith organizations will be required to pay $200 every two years to register, while medical practitioners will be charged $250, according to officials.

As far as retail is concerned, businesses will be able to register by June or July, and the government also recently completed a request-for-proposal process for seed-to-sale operations, according to Carty. Though she noted that cultivation and manufacturing licenses likely won’t be granted until at least 2025, highlighting that “a lot of things are not within our control.”

While it appears that the already lengthy wait to finally launch the Virgin Islands’ recreational cannabis program may be just a bit longer, the recent push represents a more clear road forward.

“The train is ready to leave the station,” board member Richard Evangelista said. “All passengers are on board.”

The U.S. Virgin Islands will join other Caribbean nations in enacting cannabis reform including Antigua, which decriminalized cannabis use for the general public, and Jamaica, which has decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis. The Bahamas are also in the process of considering policies that could legalize cannabis for medical and religious purposes and decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.



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