The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) unveiled a revised marijuana legalization bill on Wednesday, making a series of changes to previously introduced legislation and transmitting it to the Senate for consideration.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who pushed for legalization as part of his State of the Territory address in January and previously called lawmakers into a special session to take up the issue, said in a letter to Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. (D) that the revisions to the bill were the product of “listening discussions with multiple senators and the general public.”
As in the past, Bryan emphasized that tax revenue from legal cannabis sales would create much-needed funding for the territory’s retirement system for government employees. It would also offset economic losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, the governor argued.
“Consideration of this proposed bill is exigent given that the principal benefit of the revenues derived from this bill are directed to assisting the stoppage of the hemorrhaging of the Government Employees Retirement System,” he said. “I once again state that this bill will not solve the GERS financial status; rather, it is one of the tools and we must continue to work together to find other means to shore up the system.”
“It is also important that we utilize the present time while we are putting our economy back together in readiness for the post-COVID pandemic environment, to put this revenue mechanism in place,” he continued.
After Bryan first proposed the policy change and directed the legislature to take up the issue in a special session late last year, several legislators voiced opposition to specifics of the proposal.
Some questioned the notion that tax revenue from cannabis sales could make up for the significant deficits running within the retirement program, while others argued that the legislation as drafted did not adequately address social equity. Another issue that arose concerned licensing, with lawmakers worried that small businesses on the island would be left out.
While it’s not clear whether those lawmakers will be satisfied by the revisions, the new bill does make several changes to the proposed licensing structure. For example, it calls for a $1,000 licensing fee for a micro-cultivator permit and a $1,000 for a non-certified use permit.
Other changes, as noted by Vibe High, include: a ban on home cultivation for recreational consumers, allowing cultivation for medical cannabis patients, increasing the number of members of the government’s Cannabis Advisory Board and limiting non-residents to purchasing up to seven grams of flower per day while residents can buy up to an ounce.
The legislation also contains a revised taxing policy. 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 fund the Office of Cannabis Regulations, a cannabis testing program, job training, substance misuse treatment and grant programs for business incubation and micro-lending.
Omitted from the revised version of the bill are provisions dealing with marijuana tourism “day passes” for non-residents that Bryan had previously floated as a big money-maker for the territory. The enhanced tax rate for non-residents seems to have taken its the place of that idea.
The bill also provides for automatic expungements for prior marijuana possession convictions, encourages research into the benefits of cannabis and recognizes the rights of individuals who wish to use or grow the plant for religious purposes.
“Expansion of the cannabis industry provides additional opportunities including increasing business ownership and employment opportunities for Virgin Islands residents,” the legislation’s findings section states. “The legalization of cannabis can alleviate social injustices experienced by persons subjected to the criminal justice system for simple possession of cannabis.”
Bryan said last month that he would be submitting the revised legalization bill to lawmakers the next day, though the legislation didn’t actually materialize until this week.
During a press conference on Monday, the governor said that while “we cannot fix the entire GERS in one fell swoop, we do have things that we can do. We have pending legislation in the Cannabis Act that will start to chip away at the problem.”
Watch the conversation below, starting around 14:00:
He also lamented that the legislature didn’t act on his legalization legislation earlier, stating that “I was telling people we needed to get this cannabis bill done by January” and the territory has “already missed four months of revenue” as a consequence of inaction.
Asked about his overall plan to recoup economic losses stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak, Bryan included marijuana reform in a list of ways the territory can bounce back. He said implementing a legal market is a means to “have that revenue percolate in our economy,” adding that it’s about more than tax revenue—it also involves stimulating the economy through job creation, equipment purchases and rental revenue from new storefronts.
Read the revised USVI marijuana legalization bill below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Trump Reelection Campaign Attacks Biden As ‘Architect’ Of The War On Drugs
President Trump’s reelection campaign is seizing on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s record as a chief sponsor and champion of punitive anti-drug laws that have contributed to mass incarceration.
In a blog post on Tuesday, the campaign attacked Biden as a “typical Washington career politician who spent decades building up America’s mass incarceration system and poisoning the public discourse with race-baiting, divisive and inflammatory remarks.”
Biden’s role in authoring bills ramping up the war on drugs during his time in the Senate is also being featured in a Trump 2020 video ad—signaling that the president is angling to present himself as the drug policy reform candidate as the November election approaches.
“Biden hasn’t just stoked America’s racial divisions over the course of his decades in Washington,” the blog post on donaldjtrump.com, which was later shared on Twitter by the technically unaffiliated super PAC America First, states. “Biden was the chief architect of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, which targeted Black Americans.”
Biden hasn’t just stoked America’s racial divisions over the course of his decades in Washington. Biden was the chief architect of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, which targeted Black Americans. https://t.co/DV0Yf8Fvvw
— America First (@AmericaFirstPAC) June 2, 2020
“Biden voted to extend minimum penalties for people under 21 charged with selling marijuana, and introduced the civil forfeiture legislation which allows the government to seize assets of citizens accused of drug crimes,” the campaign blog post continues. “Biden helped write the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created the 100:1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity and disproportionately targeted minority communities.”
“Biden’s self-imagined reinvention as a racial healer is laughable and requires memory-holing decades of racially inflammatory rhetoric.”
In the video ad released last month, the Trump campaign said that mass incarceration “has put hundreds of thousands behind bars for minor offenses. Joe Biden wrote those laws.”
“Joe Biden’s policies destroyed millions of black lives” due to his role in advancing anti-drug laws and other criminal justice policies, it states. “Joe Biden may not remember. But we do.”
The campaign first indicated it would be highlighting criminal justice reform when it aired an ad during the Super Bowl in February touting the president’s commutation of a person convicted of a nonviolent drug offense.
I promised to restore hope in America. That includes the least among us. Together, let’s KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
Text TRUMP to 88022 if you liked our Super Bowl ad! pic.twitter.com/Lgjt53B7QX
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2020
Drug reform advocates have made similar criticisms of the former vice president, arguing that his record does not bode well for the prospects of comprehensive policy changes in the U.S. criminal justice system. His ongoing opposition to adult-use marijuana legalization has also been a source of frustration, despite his recent support for more modest proposals such as decriminalizing possession, allowing medical cannabis, federal rescheduling, expunging past convictions and letting states set their own laws.
That said, while the Trump administration has taken certain modest bipartisan steps—such as signing sentencing reform legislation, granting clemency to certain individuals with prior federal drug convictions and voicing support for states’ rights when it comes to cannabis legalization—the image of a uniformly pro-reform president that the campaign is attempting to present isn’t the full picture.
“Joe Biden’s record on drug policy is quite abysmal given his role in the 1994 Crime Bill and as one of the lead advocates for increased mandatory minimum sentences and other policies that inflamed our crisis of mass incarceration in this country,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Unfortunately, despite not having a long legislative record like Biden for direct comparison, Donald Trump’s history as it relates to racial justice and drug policy is also quite horrendous.”
Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded Obama-era guidance known as the Cole memo. Under that directive, federal prosecutors were advised not to pursue action against individuals for state-legal cannabis-related activity, except under a select set of circumstances.
Also, while Trump has voiced support for medical cannabis legalization, he’s on several occasions released signing statements on spending legislation stipulating that he reserves the right to ignore a long-standing rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.
Trump also asked Congress to end the medical cannabis protections as part of his fiscal year 2021 budget plan—something the Obama administration also previously did to no avail.
Despite his pledged support for medical cannabis and states’ rights, Trump evidently holds some negative views toward marijuana consumption, as evidenced in a recording from 2018 that was leaked two years later. In that recording, the president said that using cannabis makes people “lose IQ points.”
Another controversial administrative action concerns immigrants and marijuana. In April 2019, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo stating that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related “activities” such as working for a dispensary—even in states where it’s legal—is an immoral offense that makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship.
In December 2019, the Justice Department issued a notice that it was seeking to make certain marijuana offenses, including misdemeanor possession, grounds to deny asylum to migrants.
Meanwhile, though the president’s reelection campaign is presenting him as a criminal justice reformer, Trump himself in recent days has embraced the slogan of “law and order” as he has seemed to endorse violent law enforcement responses to people protesting police killings of black Americans.
Sleepy Joe has been in politics for 40 years, and did nothing. Now he pretends to have the answers. He doesn’t even know the questions. Weakness will never beat anarchists, looters or thugs, and Joe has been politically weak all of his life. LAW & ORDER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Altieri of NORML said that despite these conflicting statements and administrative actions, the Trump campaign “does seem to understand by putting forth this outreach is that marijuana law reform and ending our failed War on Drugs are popular positions with the majority of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.”
“All candidates should be putting forth comprehensive plans on how they will address cannabis and criminal justice reform if they are in the White House in 2021, but as of yet we’ve seen mostly lip service and finger pointing in lieu of real solutions,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
The White House Is Reviewing CBD And Marijuana Research Guidance From FDA
The White House is currently reviewing a federal plan for marijuana and CBD research.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted draft guidance on the issue last week to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Details about the document—titled “Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research”—are sparse. But an FDA spokesperson indicated to Marijuana Moment that it’s related to the agency’s ongoing work to develop broader CBD regulations that could eventually allow for the marketing of cannabis products as dietary supplements or food items.
“We recognize that there is substantial public interest in marketing and accessing CBD for a variety of products. We are working toward a goal of providing additional guidance, and have made substantial progress,” FDA said in a statement. “There are many questions to explore regarding the science, safety, effectiveness and quality of products containing CBD, and we need to do our due diligence.”
“As part of our work, the FDA continues to explore potential pathways for various types of CBD products to be lawfully marketed,” the statement continues. “An important component of this work is obtaining and evaluating information to address outstanding questions related to the safety of CBD products that will inform our consideration of potential regulatory frameworks for CBD while maintaining the FDA’s rigorous public health standards.”
What remains to be seen is whether FDA plans to wait for this specific guidance to be finalized and for the resulting research to be completed before it gets around to issuing final rules for CBD products in general. Stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting those regulations so they can fully take advantage of the legalization of hemp and its derivatives.
“We will continue to update the public about our path forward as our work progresses, and provide information that is based on sound science and data,” FDA said.
While sending the guidance to OMB could be interpreted as a positive development signaling that FDA is making progress on the development of regulations, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Saturday that White House policies requiring OMB to review scientific documents in the first place represent an onerous step that’s delayed the issuance of guidance.
It’s also worth noting FDA’s effort to modernize definition of “healthy” on food labels to help consumers make more informed choices about diets has been under OMB review since August 2019. Will technical and scientific guidance critical to advancing patient care move faster? 2/2
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) May 30, 2020
The FDA spokesperson declined to comment on the former commissioner’s statement.
The agency first announced in January that it planned to publish guidance on cannabis research this year. It’s not clear how long the OMB review will take or when the document will be finalized for public release.
In addition to sending the guidance to the White House for review, FDA is also soliciting public input about the safety and efficacy of CBD in comment period it has decided to keep open indefinitely. The agency said in an update to Congress in March that it has several specific questions it wants answered before deciding whether the cannabidiol can be lawfully marketed. That includes questions about the impact of different methods of consumption and drug interactions.
In the meantime, FDA is maintaining enforcement discretion when it comes to action against companies that sell CBD products regardless of the lack of regulations and has said it is currently targeting sellers that make especially outlandish or unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic value of their products.
It sent a warning letter to a CBD company owned by a former NFL player after advertisements it displayed suggested its products could treat and prevent a coronavirus infection, for example.
FDA sent a letter warning to a company about its marketing of injectable CBD products that led to a voluntary recall last month.
The agency also publicized a voluntary recall of another CBD product from a different company, notifying consumers about potentially high levels of lead in a batch of tinctures.
FDA has previously issued warnings to other CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated claims about the therapeutic potential of their products.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Marijuana Legalization And The Fight For Racial Justice (Op-Ed)
“Black and brown lives matter and we owe it to our country and to ourselves to take tangible steps toward dismantling many of the power structures that perpetuate injustice. Marijuana prohibition is simply one of them.”
By Erik Altieri, NORML
On May 25th, George Floyd was killed on camera by officers affiliated with the Minneapolis Police Department. As were many Americans, we were shocked and disheartened by this tragic and needless loss of life.
As the events of the past few days have unfolded, it is clear that America is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with itself. Since 1619, when the first ships arrived on the coast of Virginia with enslaved Africans in chains, our country has long had to struggle to address the inequality and structural racism embedded within our public institutions—particularly within the criminal justice system.
From slavery and the Civil War, to the battles to end Jim Crow laws, to the marches for civil rights, to the protests against mass incarceration, to the Black Lives Matter movement, each generation of Americans has stepped up to take action to fight to end racial injustice.
As protests continue to take place across our nation, more Americans are beginning to publicly demand action from their local, state and federal leaders to end the policies and practices that promote, enable and drive systemic racial injustice. In these conversations about policy solutions, many will include in their demands an ending to the war on drugs—or, at a minimum, an ending to marijuana criminalization. But while ending cannabis prohibition is both important and necessary, we must also recognize that doing so is but a single piece of a much larger puzzle.
Will legalizing marijuana reform alone solve the problem of racial injustice? No.
Is ending cannabis prohibition going to fix all of America’s social ills? No.
After we legalize adult-cannabis use, will we see an end to discriminatory policing against communities of color and other marginalized groups? No.
Will end marijuana prohibition be a small step toward the greater goal of promoting justice? Without a doubt, yes.
And the majority of Americans agree.
Will marijuana reform end racism? No. Can it be a part of reforming a broken & racist system? Yes.
It is important for those of us not from marginalized communities to truly listen to those who are facing this oppression & support them in this struggle.https://t.co/9fesgBY7Pc
— NORML (@NORML) June 2, 2020
Our decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry. Look no further than the sentiments of its architect, Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who declared: “[M]ost [marijuana consumers in the US] are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. … [M]arijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes. … Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
These racial biases were later exploited by the Nixon administration when it ramped up the drug war in 1970 and declared cannabis to be “public enemy #1.” As former Nixon adviser John Ehrlichman later acknowledged: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Today, the modern era of marijuana prohibition continues to be disproportionately applied. Annually, over 650,000 Americans are arrested for violating marijuana laws. Yet, according to an analysis of these arrests released earlier this year by the ACLU, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”
Of course, marijuana prohibition isn’t the sole cause of America’s racial inequities, nor is it the sole reason why certain members of the police continue to engage in racially-aggressive policing and misconduct. But its criminalization is one of the tools commonly used to justify and perpetuate these injustices.
For example, marijuana enforcement was the pretext in the fatal law enforcement shooting of another Minnesotan just a few years before George Floyd’s murder: Philando Castile. The officer in this case alleged that he feared for his life simply because he believed that Mr. Castille had been smoking marijuana, stating: “I thought I was gonna die. And I thought if he’s, if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the 5-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girl was screaming.”
Even in those jurisdictions where adult-use cannabis is legal, we know that there still remains much work to be done to address continuing racial inequities. For instance, African Americans and Latinos continue to disproportionately be targeted for traffic stops in Colorado and Washington even after legalization.
Then there is the question of the cannabis industry itself. We advocates need to continue to push for inclusion and equity within this space. We must not ignore the reality that while a handful of venture capitalists are now engaging in licensed cannabis sales in systems that largely exclude minority ownership while millions of others—most of them young, poor and people of color—continue to face arrest and incarceration for engaging in much of the same behavior.
There is no doubt that our national discussion over matters of race and policing will continue long after these public protests have ceased. NORML believes that calls for cannabis legalization need to be an important part of this emerging discussion—but only a part. Black and brown lives matter and we owe it to our country and to ourselves to take tangible steps toward dismantling many of the power structures that perpetuate injustice. Marijuana prohibition is simply one of them.
We are at a crossroads in this country and it is time for all of us to march as allies in the fight for racial justice and equality. It is important during this process for those of us not from these marginalized communities to truly listen to those who are facing this oppression and support them in this struggle. Let us take this moment in time to pledge to put in the work necessary in order to make America the better and more just nation that we know it can be.
Erik Altieri is executive director of NORML.