A U.S. Virgin Islands lawmaker has filed a bill that would legalize cannabis for use by adults and separate legislation that would expunge convictions for some past marijuana offenses. Sen. Janelle Sarauw, the author of the legislation, said that the legislature’s legal counsel had released a final version of the 71-page bill on October 10, noting that the bill and separate legislation to expunge low-level marijuana convictions are now ready for discussion by the Senate of the U.S. territory.
Sen. Sarauw added that both bills were worked on “by inside and outside counsel, community stakeholders, and input from senators in both the 33rd and 34th Legislature, as well as industry experts.”
“It has been a very cumbersome process to get these bills to where they are today,” and the legislation “now contains provisions for opportunities for those that have been ostracized by cannabis for so long, as well as those who may have otherwise been overlooked for inclusion in the industry for one reason or the other,”
U.S. Virgin Islands Approved Medical Marijuana in 2014
In 2014, 56 percent of voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands approved a referendum calling for the legalization of medical marijuana. In 2018, the legislature finally followed through by passing a medical cannabis legalization bill, although the territory’s executive branch has yet to implement the legislation. Currently, possession of one ounce or less of cannabis in the Virgin Islands for those aged 18 and older is classified as a civil offense, punishable by a fine between $100 and $200,
Representatives of the Virgin Islands legislature have made two trips to Colorado to study marijuana legalization and regulatory efforts in the first state that legalized recreational marijuana for adults, in 2015 and again in October 2021. Sarauw said that lessons learned in jurisdictions that have already taken action on cannabis reform can help inform legislation in the Virgin Islands.
“To ignore those lessons would be foolish,” she said,
Legalization Bill Includes Social Equity Provisions
Sarauw said that the legislation was written to include social equity provisions designed to create an inclusive cannabis industry. She added that while she expects the legalization plan to eventually succeed in the legislature, access to legal cannabis is still a long way off for the residents of the islands.
“I am proud of the work done to ensure that locals and minorities are not locked out of the industry and have an opportunity to participate in the economic potential of the industry — from farming, to dispensaries, to incentives for boutique labs, and micro energy providers,” Sarauw said in the statement.
“The opening of the cannabis industry across states has made many very wealthy; we had to make sure that those opportunities were also available to our residents, and not just the affluent ones,” she added.
Sarauw noted that the expungement and legalization provisions of the legislation were originally contained in one bill, but the expungement portion “was separated from the overall bill so that it is not contingent on the passing of, or the timeline of the adult use recreational bill.”
“It is beyond time that we level the playing field, so that persons with past convictions can have a clean slate and have the opportunity to enter into the industry legally as business owners,” Sarauw said.