The U.S. Virgin Islands’ aspiration to fully enact the Recreational Marijuana Use Act is currently in limbo, thanks to a halt in Senate activities. This delay was highlighted during a recent discussion involving the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, the Office of Cannabis Regulations (OCR), and the Cannabis Advisory Board. The main bone of contention is the Senate’s slow pace in passing crucial amendments, thereby inhibiting the complete realization of Act 8680. This act, if executed correctly, would greenlight recreational cannabis consumption and other pivotal elements tied to marijuana use in the islands.
At the heart of this debate is OCR Executive Director, Hanna Carty, who informed the legislative panel that the OCR is only geared up to enforce rules pertaining to medicinal cannabis use. The ambiguous phrasing of Act 8680 prevents the establishment of retail programs intended for general adult users. Catherine Kean, the head of the Cannabis Advisory Board, illustrated the existing challenge with a relatable analogy. She emphasized that, based on the act’s current rendition, a casual tourist keen on exploring a dispensary would face barriers, which goes against the act’s primary objective of granting easy access to the average visitor.
A pivotal section of the act mandates that cannabis sales are restricted to specific zones, accessible only by individuals with a clear permit. The current language of the act exclusively permits medicinal patients to frequent these zones, leaving no avenue for recreational enthusiasts to make legal acquisitions. Hanna Carty highlighted the economic implications of this oversight, noting that non-medical users, who would be the main contributors via taxes, are left out. Tourists, envisioned as the prime sector for cannabis, would face prohibitions unless equipped with a medicinal card either from their original locale or from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In a proactive move, post their last dialogue with the Senate Committee in March, regulatory authorities proposed multiple amendments to counter the act’s shortcomings. Carty identified these amendments as the cornerstone for ensuring the health, safety, and operational efficiency of the program. Despite being submitted for Senator Donna Frett-Gregory’s review, there’s been no progression in the legislative procedures.
When probed about the consequences of the amendment delays, Carty revealed that the initial set of draft regulations was crafted assuming the presence of the proposed amendments. The lack of these vital changes has necessitated revisiting and modifying the regulations, particularly barring specific user groups from dispensaries. Current draft rules published by the OCR define purchase and consumption limits for adult users but forbid cannabis product sales in designated consumption zones, allowing only authorized medical patients to buy from licensed dispensaries.
Senator Frett-Gregory acknowledged the legislation revision with the Governor’s legal team had been postponed owing to budgetary concerns. However, she gave assurances that once the budget cycle concludes, the Senate would prioritize addressing the pending amendments.
Concluding the session, Hanna Carty reminded citizens that the actualization of legal cannabis remains dependent on a comprehensive regulatory system and functional dispensaries. She encouraged public participation by announcing the deadline for feedback on the current draft regulations, set for October 10 at 5:00 p.m., inviting suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.