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Cannabis Advisory Board’s Slow Burn

The Executive Director Hannah Carty (clockwise from upper left) with Cannabis Advisory Board Chairperson Catherine Kean, and members Gary Jett, Chris Jones, and Nicole Craigwell-Syms at the Board’s first meeting in 2023. (Photo: Screenshot of Zoom meeting)

The U.S. Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Board unrolled setback after setback at its meeting Monday — the first briefing in nearly a year.

The Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act signed into law in January, completely replaced the cannabis laws around medicinal use, snuffing out all the work the board had done since 2019. That three years of effort exhausted the allotted budget, meaning a new budget for the new law was needed — mostly for enforcement officers. But even action on a proposed budget was on hold because the board lacked enough members to make any decisions.

When former Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Richard Evangelista changed jobs at the end of July, becoming Gov. Albert Bryan’s chief legal counsel, he left the cannabis board without enough members to form a voting quorum. Board members wondered if rules existed or could be streamlined to allow positions to be on the board instead of constantly confirming new people, such as acting DLCA Commissioner H. Natalie Hodge.

The board also hoped to add two more members to avoid future shortfalls.

Adding to the woes, however, the cannabis law itself may need amending as its perceived intent is at odds with its wording in some areas, said Board chairperson Catherine Kean.

“Upon close scrutiny, the intent of the law does not match with the written aspect of the law. And obviously, it is an oversight, but it must be corrected,” Kean said. “Otherwise, our rules and regulations are just not going to make sense to the public and obviously other things such as background check requirements for the federal government and taxes are things that be mentioned that should also be amended, where the taxes are going, what are they doing?”

The long-awaited rules and regulations have been on hand and reviewed by various officials since June, said V.I. Cannabis Executive Director Hannah Carty. The expansive document — 131 pages — draws on other jurisdictions to ensure they align with industry standards. But there are grey areas, including taxes, federal regulation, and banking.

The board has already burned through money allocated for the medicinal marijuana act and needs more to hire enforcement officers for the legal sale of adult-recreational-use marijuana, Kean said.

“We need the money obviously. We can’t move forward without, you know, our budget being met because, obviously, we need to hire these individuals so that they can begin to work,” she said. “The type of work that they’re going to need to do takes months’ worth of preparation for before we are able to launch. I know that we are trying to get the first dispensary open relatively quickly, but we, as a board, are our hands are tied because we’re not able to get the funding that we need to put out the RFPs for these, particular necessary and, you can’t have it without it.”

It’s more than just policing where and how legal cannabis is sold. Enforcement officers would also be checking how the plant is grown — locally or abroad — and from what seeds.

As it stands, it continues to be illegal in the Virgin Islands to grow or consume cannabis in public; this includes public beaches where all smoking is banned.

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