The U.S. Virgin Islands Senate voted to legalize adult recreational cannabis use, sending the legislation known as Bill 34-0345 to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for signature. Medical cannabis has been legal in the Virgin Islands since 2019.
Sens. Janelle K. Sarauw and Angel L. Bolques Jr. proposed the adult-use bill, which passed the Senate last Thursday with 11 votes in favor and one vote against. Three remaining senators were not in attendance and did not vote.
The new rules will allow up to 50 cannabis retail licenses over the three main islands.
“The opportunity to deliberate on the bill openly and collaboratively — [its] intents, the parameters necessary because of our geographic makeup and enforcement limitations — all without the time constraints of an actual hearing, was paramount to the finalization of the legislation,” Sarauw said in a statement. “Everyone’s concerns were heard and addressed in those meetings. Even senators that were known ‘no’ votes participated, in an effort to ensure that if the bill passed, it would address those warranted concerns.”
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. wrote in his 2023-2024 budget proposal that he expects $10 million in tax revenue in the first year. However, he also stated that if retailers managed it correctly, that annual tax revenue could soon grow to $50 million.
“We have a $40 million funding gap this year that we need to fill with different types of funding resources. We need to get that going,” Gov. Bryan said. “Don’t listen to them when they tell you about medicinal cannabis. Medicinal cannabis use costs us money; it doesn’t make us a dime. We don’t tax it, because it’s a medicine. We need to get this bill moving. It’s been three years now. Get it moving through the Legislature so we can get some money going.”
In addition to passing the law for adult use of cannabis, senators also passed Bill 34-0344, which would expunge criminal records for cannabis-related convictions.
“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 the industry legally as business owners if they so choose,” Sen. Sarauw said.
The Office of Cannabis Regulation will be in charge of issuing the licenses and may also regulate cannabis product manufacturing, packaging, labeling, advertising, record keeping, and employment.
According to the new law, anyone over the age of 18 can apply for a license. However, cannabis license majority owners would have to be residents of the Virgin Islands and would face financial and criminal background checks.
Yearly license or permit costs would vary depending on the type of approval, but the fees could not exceed $1,000 for a retail license, $10,000 for a manufacturing license, and $20,000 for a cultivation license, according to the proposed law.
The statement from Sarauw’s office noted that the group attended the Legislative Cannabis Summit in Colorado and learned that the industry costs more when not structured or implemented properly. She said that the legislation now supports a variety of local opportunities, void of special interests.