Connect with us

Government

USVI Advances Marijuana Conviction Expungements Under New Legislation

Published

on

The US Virgin Islands (USVI) has embarked on a mission to expunge cannabis-related convictions, offering a new lease on life for those impacted. This initiative follows the enactment of Act 8680, the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act, in January 2023. Governor Albert Bryan’s signature on this act set in motion a significant shift in the territory’s approach to marijuana possession.

Governor Bryan’s declaration of comprehensive pardons for all simple marijuana possession convictions under the Virgin Islands Code was a pivotal moment. An estimated 300 individuals convicted over the past two decades are now poised to benefit from this policy change. The governor’s team is actively informing eligible individuals about the steps to obtain their pardons.

This act not only grants pardons but also mandates the automatic expungement of convictions for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana. Richard Motta, the Government House Communications Director, disclosed that the governor’s Cannabis Auto-Expungement Task Force is proactively identifying those eligible for expungement. This task force is reviewing over 90 cases involving convictions for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana, as defined in Title 19 of the Virgin Islands Code section 607 A.

In a bid to foster community awareness and participation, the task force is reaching out to individuals whose convictions involve possession of more than one ounce but less than two ounces of marijuana. The task force’s broader mandate includes examining additional criminal conviction classifications related to cannabis for potential inclusion in the auto-expungement process. This comprehensive review, slated for completion in early 2024, underscores the territory’s commitment to justice reform and societal equity in the evolving legal landscape of cannabis use.

The task force, led by Positive Nelson, the governor’s appointed “Cannabis Czar,” brings together legal experts such as Julie Todman, Ariel Smith, Shelby Gaddy, Dwyer Arce, Nisha Christian Hendrickson, and Casey Payton. This diverse team reflects the administration’s dedication to thorough and fair expungement proceedings.

Despite these advancements in expungement, the broader legalization of marijuana in the USVI is progressing more slowly. Legal advisors suggest it may take a year before legal cannabis transactions commence in the territory. At a recent briefing, Mr. Motta, while acknowledging the establishment of a quorum by the Cannabis Advisory Board (CAB), deferred to the CAB for updates on implementing the law’s rules and regulations.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Government

Governor Bryan Appoints Antonio Stevens as Director of Virgin Islands Fire & Emergency Services

Published

on

Governor Albert Bryan has officially named Antonio Stevens as the new director of the Virgin Islands Fire & Emergency Medical Services (VIFEMS), marking a pivotal transition nearly four months after the agency mourned the loss of Daryl George, its esteemed inaugural director.

Governor Bryan lauded Mr. Stevens as “an exemplary figure whose vast contributions span both military and civilian emergency management realms.”

Mr. Stevens embarked on his journey with the Virgin Islands Fire Service in 2006, following an illustrious military career. Under the mentorship of Daryl George, he ascended to the role of assistant director, showcasing his leadership skills and deep commitment to the community’s safety.

In the wake of Mr. George’s departure, Mr. Stevens was appointed acting director, a role he fulfilled with distinction until his formal installation into office this week.

Governor Bryan praised Mr. Stevens for his leadership qualities, expertise, and unwavering dedication, declaring him “the perfect leader to guide the Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services forward.”

Expressing his gratitude, Mr. Stevens acknowledged the governor and his deputy for their trust, as well as the unwavering support of the VIFEMS team. “I am grateful for the team that stands with me. Together, we will move towards a promising future,” he stated, signaling a new chapter for the agency under his direction.

Continue Reading

Government

VI Lawmakers Call for Stronger Recruitment to Overcome Enforcement Officer Gap

Published

on

During a recent Senate hearing focused on the operations of various government agencies, Senator Kenneth Gittens took a firm stance on addressing the critical shortage of enforcement officers within the territory. As the chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety, Gittens emphasized the need for enhanced recruitment efforts to ensure agencies are adequately staffed to meet their regulatory responsibilities.

Highlighting the urgency of the situation, Gittens pointed out the concerning staffing levels across several departments, urging agency leaders to prioritize hiring in their budget plans for the forthcoming fiscal year. He specifically addressed the Taxicab Commission, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA), and the Department of Health (DOH), stating, “For the next budget cycle, we expect to see requests so that we can hire people.”

Discussions during the committee meeting revealed a common challenge among the agencies: severe understaffing that hampers their ability to enforce regulations effectively. For instance, the DOH’s Environmental Health Division, tasked with overseeing around 6,000 establishments, operates with just three enforcement officers, though efforts are underway to double this number. Yet, the division’s director, Wanson Harris, indicated that twelve officers would be the optimal number to fulfill their mandate effectively.

Similarly, the DLCA, with seven enforcement officers spread across two districts for monitoring over 12,000 businesses, finds itself significantly understaffed. Wilbur Francis, Director of Enforcement at DLCA, expressed a need for an additional seven officers to meet their operational needs adequately.

Senator Franklin Johnson underscored the economic implications of these staffing shortages, particularly in revenue-generating agencies like the DLCA, where insufficient personnel leads to missed opportunities for income collection.

Gittens also highlighted the critical role of Neighborhood Nuisance Officers within the DOH, advocating for the expansion of this team to address widespread issues such as abandoned vehicles and mosquito breeding in neglected pools. Currently, a solitary officer manages these concerns across the entire territory.

The DPNR and the Taxicab Commission (TCC) also face similar challenges. The DPNR operates with eleven enforcement officers, yet identifies a need for ten officers per district to improve efficiency. The TCC, meanwhile, grapples with a notable absence of enforcement officers in the St. Croix district and limited capacity in the St. Thomas/St. John district, severely restricting its enforcement capabilities.

Despite these challenges, there is a glimmer of hope as agencies like the TCC plan to bolster their ranks in the near future. Nevertheless, the current enforcement officer deficit underscores a broader issue of resource allocation and the imperative for strategic hiring to ensure the effective enforcement of the territory’s laws and regulations. With budget hearings on the horizon in June, lawmakers appear poised to support initiatives that will strengthen the enforcement workforce across the territory’s 22 agencies, demonstrating a commitment to upholding public safety and regulatory compliance.

Continue Reading

Government

Dispute Escalates as WMA’s Appeal for Reduced Assessment Rejected by PSC

Published

on

The recent meeting of the Public Services Commission (PSC) marked a pivotal moment in the ongoing dispute between the PSC and the Waste Management Authority (WMA), potentially paving the way for a legal showdown. The WMA’s request to re-evaluate its substantial annual assessment was firmly rejected, highlighting a critical disagreement over financial assessments and obligations.

Florence Kahugu, the WMA’s lead legal advisor, challenged the PSC’s assessment methodology, arguing for a significant reduction in the annual fee. According to Kahugu, funds received from the central government, designated for specific uses, were improperly included in the WMA’s operational revenue calculation, suggesting the assessment should be adjusted from the initial figure of over $400,000 to a mere $14,000.

Darryl Griffith, the WMA’s finance chief, contested the PSC’s revenue calculations for 2022, pointing out a stark contrast between the PSC’s $53.7 million figure and the $1.3 million reported by their auditors. Griffith emphasized that government appropriations, although utilized for operational expenses, do not constitute operating revenue, which he defined as earnings from the entity’s primary activities.

This contention over the definition of “gross operating revenue” became the crux of the disagreement. Despite pushback from the PSC, Griffith and Kahugu stood firm on their interpretation, backed by the consistent clearance of WMA’s financial audits by Bert Smith & Co, a reputable auditing firm also engaged by the Government of the Virgin Islands.

Highlighting the WMA’s reliance on government funding, Louis Sylvester, the deputy executive director, disclosed that 95% of the agency’s income stems from legislative appropriations. He pointed out the absence of charges for waste disposal services to the government, a practice underpinned by the WMA’s semi-autonomous status and the legislative support it enjoys. Sylvester recounted a failed attempt to introduce a charge for waste disposal, which was met with strong opposition from the community, leading to its withdrawal and the continuation of government subsidies.

The PSC, however, maintained its stance, referencing the agency’s acceptance of assessments from 2007 to 2021 without contention and highlighting the lack of initiative from the WMA to achieve financial independence. The PSC’s recommendation to deny the WMA’s petition for reassessment and to proceed with a comprehensive rate investigation reflects the commission’s position on the matter.

Kahugu signaled the WMA’s intention to challenge the decision in the Superior Court if their petition was denied, a move that would require the WMA to cover all legal expenses, including those incurred by the PSC.

In a unanimous decision, the commissioners denied the WMA’s appeal and initiated plans for an in-depth investigation into the agency’s financial operations, setting the stage for further developments in this contentious issue.

Continue Reading

Trending