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US Virgin Islands pushes forward on stalled law allowing recreational marijuana use

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A stalled marijuana law in the U.S. Virgin Islands got a big push Tuesday after an advisory board approved a list of proposed rules and regulations that would govern the recreational use of cannabis in the territory.

The board’s vote represented a key step toward implementing a law approved more than a year ago to allow the recreational use on the three islands. A 30-day public comment period on the proposed regulations and rules is scheduled to start soon.

“We have been waiting a very long time for this,” Dr. Catherine Kean, the advisory board’s chairperson, said.

The board also is finalizing a list of people it thinks are qualified to have their criminal records expunged of simple cannabis possession, as authorized by the law. The list will be shared with legislators, the island’s Supreme Court and others in upcoming weeks, board member Positive Nelson said.

Some 300 people in the U.S. Virgin Islands have been convicted of simple marijuana possession in the past 20 years.

The board also is completing a registration system, with people who use cannabis for medicinal or sacramental purposes expected to have access to it by April, according to Hannah Carty, the board’s executive director.

Every two years, religious and faith organizations will have to pay $200 to register, and medical practitioners will be charged $250, officials said.

Businesses will be able to register by June or July, Carty said, adding that the government just completed a request-for-proposal process for seed-to-sale operations. However, cultivation and manufacturing licenses likely will not be granted before the end of the year, she said.

“A lot of things are not within our control,” Carty noted.

While the U.S. territory approved marijuana for medicinal use in 2019, the recreational use that was legalized in January 2023 stalled for several reasons, including wording of the bill and the cannabis advisory board lacking sufficient members for a quorum.

The law allows adults ages 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, a half-ounce of cannabis concentrate and 1 ounce of products such as edibles for recreational, sacramental and other uses.

Medical marijuana patients are allowed to possess up to 4 ounces of cannabis, 1 ounce of concentrate and 2 ounces of products.

A minimum 18% tax will apply to all dispensary sales, although medical marijuana patients are exempt. Three-fourths of the tax revenue is expected to go to the general fund. Of that amount, 15% is earmarked for behavioral health programs, 5% to address homelessness and 5% for youth programs.

Nelson asked if an actual card for marijuana patients would be issued: “For the OGs. I was thinking about that,” he said as the other board members smiled.

Carty said patients would receive digital IDs they can keep on their phones or print out.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is the latest part of the Caribbean to relax marijuana laws. Antigua decriminalized marijuana use for the general public, and Jamaica has decriminalized small amounts of pot. Meanwhile, the Bahamas has started debating several bills to legalize marijuana for medical and religious purposes and decriminalize possession of small amounts.

The cannabis advisory board members in the U.S. Virgin islands celebrated their progress.

“The train is ready to leave the station,” board member Richard Evangelista said. “All passengers are on board.”

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