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Sunday, February 5, 2023
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Virgin Islanders Get First Look At Senate’s Bill Legalizing Cannabis

Two long-awaited bills would legalize adult-use marijuana and expunge the records of those convicted of possession. (Photo: detail of proposed bill)

Virgin Islanders got their first look Monday at a law legalizing cannabis use for adults and another proposed bill expunging cannabis convictions.

Sen. Janelle Sarauw, sponsor of both proposed bills, acknowledged in a written statement that the bills were a long time coming. “It has been a very cumbersome process to get these bills to where they are today,” she wrote.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. proposed his version of the Cannabis Use Act in 2019 and again in 2020. Less than two weeks ago, Bryan’s re-election campaign chided Sarauw for not publishing the legislation despite promises to do so in 2021.

Sarauw and gubernatorial candidate Sen. Kurt Vialet are running to replace Bryan and Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach in the Nov. 8 election. Vialet has said publicly that he was not in favor of marijuana legalization. Phone messages left at Vialet’s office and personal line were not immediately returned.

Although Vialet has slowed progress of medical marijuana legislation, it was the Bryan administration Sarauw blamed for medical marijuana’s slow rollout. She accused Bryan of not investing in the infrastructure needed to make medical marijuana widely available three years after legislative approval.

The recreational-use legalization bill stretches over 69 pages that Sarauw said reflect broad consideration of the proposed law’s impact. She acknowledged naysayers and critics.

“Although there have been many politically driven false narratives about this cannabis legislation, 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 wrote.

The Adult Use Cannabis Act published Monday aims to ensure all Virgin Islanders are given equal opportunity to profit from the end of marijuana prohibition and are protected from abuse, she said.

“The opening of the cannabis industry across states have made many very wealthy; we had to make sure that those opportunities were also available to our residents, and not just the affluent ones,” Sarauw wrote.

The bill’s summary concludes: “This act is intended to strengthen the support intended to benefit local farmers, small business owners, medicinal and sacramental users, and the tourism industry by recognizing cultural and sacramental uses, creating business ownership and financial opportunities for local Virgin Islanders, increasing revenue to the Government of the VI by enabling sales to tourists.”

The bill expunging records of people convicted of marijuana-related crimes would cover anyone caught with less than two ounces. There would be no waiting period for petitioning the court for the expungement. The bill does not cover forgiveness for convictions in conjunction with marijuana: Someone caught with cannabis and an illegal firearm would still have the gun crime on their record.

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