Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson and his staff have started drafting a bill to legalize, license and regulate medicinal cannabis in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it may be a while before the “Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act” bill is heard in the legislature, the senator told a news conference Tuesday.
“I can’t dictate when it will be heard in Legislature,” Nelson said.
It could be as late as August, he said, because of budget hearings coming up, he said. The draft of the bill will be submitted to the Legislature’s legal council by the end of May. Legal council will have 45 days to review it, then it goes to a legislative committee process.
“I know this is a hot issue,” Nelson said. “There’s a clear need to go forward now. There are some regulations in place already we can draw off of.”
He said there’s a race to be first in the Caribbean to legalize cannabis. Puerto Rico wants to be first to legalize cannabis, Nelson said, but he thinks they may create a mess.
He said it’s time to embrace the commodity that’s now out of the closet. Science has spoken and research has documented the benefits, he said. It’s a question of health, economics and social freedoms, according to Nelson, who said he believes cannabis has a place in society and there are multiple ways to generate revenues.
Nelson and other speakers told about the fact-finding trip they recently took to Washington and Colorado, states where voters have passed measure to allow the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. A delegation of 11 people from the Virgin Islands made the trip in April to learn about the medical cannabis industry.
The delegates had meetings with top officials in the public and private sectors about production and dispensing medicinal cannabis. They met with representatives from the Washington Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Departments of Health and Revenue.
Chiropractor Manuel Da Motta, a private citizen on the fact finding trip, said the remarkable thing about his findings were the safety measures in place.
“In the Virgin Islands people sneak around to buy cannabis,” Da Motta said. “They don’t know what’s in it. This isn’t a debate topic. This is about peoples’ lives.”
He said he hoped the territory will take advantage of the industry and do the safe and responsible thing. People will be healthier, he said, and the island would reap economic benefits.
“The amazing thing to me is cannabis works,” Da Motta said.
Tafari Tzzadi, Nelson’s community liaison and a drafter of the bill, said the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back in. He mentioned the fact that heroin and alcohol are problems, not cannabis. He hopes the community will be brave and embrace cannabis.
“This will boost our crippled economy too,” Tzzadi said.
Coach Eurman Fahie, local community activist, said he left Colorado with a different outlook after seeing the economic benefits and job opportunities.
“We need to be on the front end, it’s happening now,” Fahie said. “This could provide a lot of jobs.” He believes if you make it legal you can control it.
Sen. Tragenza Roach said he came back from the trip convinced there are medicinal and economic benefits to cannabis. He said he will watch how the Feds relate to the laws in Colorado and Washington because cannabis is still a federally controlled substance. Because of federal laws there are statutory issues in banking and the Environmental Protection Agency, Roach said. He said it can ultimately create real and meaningful job opportunities.
Diana “Lady-D” Fragoso-Wilson, from local radio station 98.3, testified about medicinal cannabis usage when Nelson opened up the conference at the Curriculum Center for media representatives’ questions. She suffers with lupus, an autoimmune disease, that she has treated with very expensive prescription drugs.
“All that money spent on drugs didn’t give the relief that cannabis oil does,” Fragoso-Wilson said. “It’s better than any other soothing agents prescribed.”
Nelson said there will be a cannabis educational forum May 27, with two speakers from California with expertise in cannabis law and healthcare. A bill on industrial hemp will be heard in committee in June, he said, and there are plans for a 2016 cannabis conference for Caribbean leaders in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
He also expressed interest in promoting 420 zones, such as those in Jamaica, which decriminalize specified areas around resorts. He said Carambola Renaissance Resort would be the perfect place for a 420 zone.