You are here
Home > News > U.S. Virgin Islands Lawmakers Pass Cannabis Legalization Bill

U.S. Virgin Islands Lawmakers Pass Cannabis Legalization Bill

The U.S. Virgin Islands passed last week legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana. It brings to 21 the number of countries and territories which have allowed adults to legally use it. On December 30, the legislation passed by 11-1 vote in the U.S. Virgin Islands Senate. According to media reports, Governor Albert Bryan is likely to sign the legislation. He has previously expressed his strong support for reforming cannabis policy.

It was approved along with a bill that erases previous convictions related to marijuana. This was unanimously passed Friday by Senators.

Janelle K. Sarauw (sponsor of recreational marijuana legalization legislation) stated that it was a collaboration effort between advocates, who were able to overcome opposition to comprehensive cannabis policy change.

“Although there have been many politically driven false narratives about this cannabis legislation, I am proud of the work done by the Senators of the 34th Legislature, community stakeholders and advocates, all of who contributed to the structuring of the final bill voted upon in today’s Session,” Sarauw said in a press release posted to Facebook. “The body did its due diligence in protecting the masses and the best interest of our residents by ensuring that locals and minorities are not locked out of industry and have any opportunity to participate in its economic potential.”

Senators Worked Through Holiday to Finalize Bill

Senators reportedly worked over the Christmas holiday to work out some concerns with the proposed bill, eventually making some changes to the measure’s language in an amended version of the legislation. 

“It became contentious, we almost went to war over cannabis,” Sarauw said jokingly in a statement quoted by Virgin Islands Consortium, adding that “every single amendment, every single suggestion that members made is included in the amendment in the nature of a substitute.”

The possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in the U.S Virgin Islands was made illegal by 2014 legislation. In 2019, the territorial legislature passed a bill that allows medical cannabis use. Last week’s bill allows residents and visitors of the Caribbean island territories to legally purchase medical and adult cannabis from licensed dispensaries.

“There are so many provisions in this bill across various disciplines, that once implemented and enforced with fidelity, the Territory will see an industry that is inclusive and diverse, but most importantly, safe,” Sarauw said in the press release. “It is my hope that the current administration implements both Medicinal and Adult Use to their full potential, for the benefit of the people of this Territory.”

Virgin Islands Regulators Still to Be Revised

Although the bill was passed by a veto-proof majority and has the support of the territory’s governor, Sarauw noted that the legislature has yet to pass regulations to govern marijuana cultivation and sales, steps that are necessary before a regulated cannabis industry can begin operating in a legalized economy.

“Cannabis will be on the governor’s desk in no time and we have done absolutely nothing to move cannabis forward,” she said. “We bawl, I get attacked in debates about cannabis and it will be on the governor’s desk – rules and regs haven’t been promulgated, no seal-to-seal tracking system, nothing has moved with this industry.”

The bill was approved early Friday morning, during the previous legislative session in which Senator Donna A. Frett Gregory was Senate President of the 34th Legislature. She indicated her support for the measure, noting that the governor and 11 of the territory’s 15 senators had traveled to Denver to learn about issues related to cannabis legalization.

“It would be irresponsible of myself to not move this legislation up or down, whichever decision we make this evening, in the 34th Legislature because we spent the government money,” Frett-Gregory said.