The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) said on Monday that marijuana often represents a safer alternative to opioids in the treatment of pain.
During a broader speech on healthcare initiatives in the territory, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) set aside time to tout the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, which he signed a bill legalizing last year. That said, he stressed that legislators should approve a revised adult-use legalization bill he introduced last month in order to generate tax revenue that could support the effective implementation of the existing medical marijuana law.
“Cannabis is safer, in many instances, for the treatment of pain than opioids that have become commonplace and an epidemic on the mainland,” he said. “And the other health benefits that cannabis provides are well-documented by the American College of Physicians and throughout healthcare professions.”
A Cannabis Advisory Board that was established in December has “worked diligently to implement the requirements of the law and provide access and relief to patients,” he said. “But the industry, however, as it’s structured, is not self-sufficient.”
Watch the governor discuss cannabis reform plans, starting around 36:31 into the video below:
Passing comprehensive marijuana legislation would enable USVI to “fund the necessary regulatory requirements” of a medical cannabis program.
“We believe that the proposal being considered not only achieves this goal, but also creates a new source of additional direct tax revenues to support our government, and economic activity and to support commerce and entrepreneurship,” Bryan said, adding that it would also help fund the territory’s struggling retirement program for government employees.
“If a decision is made to not proceed with the expansion bill, we are prepared to implement the current law as it exists,” he continued. “But we need to make a timely decision before the Cannabis Advisory Board expends unnecessary time and resources promulgating rules and regulations and developing an infrastructure for the current law that would be significantly changed by the proposal pending before the Senate.”
“I really have to say that in the decision and in our path forward, we just have to make decisions. We’re never going to get anything perfectly perfect,” he said. “If we don’t get all the things in there in the first time when we get it approved, you have the opportunity to go back, you have the opportunity to sit with the board and create those conditions, rules and regulations that will make it a safe and profitable industry in our community.”
These comments come one week after multiple government agencies, as well as the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, testified in favor of the legalization proposal at a hearing. At that meeting, even the commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department didn’t oppose the bill and chose instead to emphasize that officers will work to uphold any laws enacted by the legislature.
Under the revised legislation, sales and production of cannabis would be made legal for adults. Additionally, it would provide for automatic expungements for prior possession convictions, encourage research into the benefits of marijuana and recognize the rights of individuals who wish to use or grow the plant for religious purposes.
The legislation would also ban home cultivation for recreational consumers, allow cultivation for medical cannabis patients, increase the number of members of the government’s existing Cannabis Advisory Board and limit non-residents to purchasing up to seven grams of flower per day while residents could buy up to an ounce.
There would be no tax on cannabis sales for medical patients, a 7.5 percent tax for residents and a 25 percent tax for non-residents.
In order to own a marijuana business, an individual must have been a resident of USVI for at least 10 years. For micro-cultivator business, the threshold is five years of residency.
A special “cannabis fund” would be established under the proposed legislation, with 20 percent of marijuana tax revenue being allocated to the Office of Cannabis Regulations, a cannabis testing program, job training, substance misuse treatment and grant programs for business incubation and micro-lending.
Lawmakers are planning to conduct additional hearings on the proposal in local districts over the next few weeks with the intent of holding a vote during the June 29 session.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved USVI’s hemp plan last month.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.