Following a lengthy legislative process, the U.S Virgin Islands governor signed a bill into law last Saturday permitting the medical-use sale of marijuana.

“I have approved the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Care Act because it is a step in the right direction toward assisting Virgin Islanders suffering from autoimmune and other debilitating medical conditions,” newly sworn-in Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) said in a press release.

The Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act allows certified patients to obtain, possess and consume marijuana for therapeutic purposes. The Act further establishes legal dispensaries and facilities to cultivate, test and manufacture cannabis products.

The legislation, approved by lawmakers last month, ensures that patients suffering from serious medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain will be able to receive a recommendation from a licensed medical practitioner to use, grow, and safely access medical marijuana. Patients with residency in the Virgin Islands may possess up to four ounces at a time, whilst non-residents are permitted to carry three ounces.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Terrence ‘Positive’ Nelson (Independent Citizen Movement), welcomed the breakthrough after his efforts in previous legislative sessions had been defeated.

“The effort went from ‘laughable’ to law!”

“After such a prolonged beating, I don’t know how to feel, except relieved for the people who will finally have access to healthy, effective, and affordable medicinal cannabis. I feel redeemed and excited that the effort went from ‘laughable’ to law!” he said in correspondence with Marijuana Moment.

Prior to his election as governor, Albert Bryan Jr. expressed his support for legalizing medical marijuana in an interview with The St. Thomas Source last year “based on the proven health benefits in the relief of pain and treatment of symptoms for many serious ailments including cancer.”

Generating new revenue

“I believe a properly regulated medicinal cannabis industry can provide relief to those seeking alternatives to conventional medicine and can also be an economic driver attracting new revenues for the Virgin Islands,” he said.

Revenue from the territory’s medical cannabis industry will be allocated towards a range of government programs including drug rehabilitation, tourism projects, agriculture investments, work training and infrastructure.

The governor also suggested that the new medical cannabis policy is open for further development.

Further refinement is required

“The Legislature recognized that the Bill, as passed, is not perfect and needs more refinement and amendment and provides for an implementation period that we must aggressively pursue,” he said.

“It is part of the process of implementation of the regulatory and operational system. And therefore it will be essential that further revisions be developed, with professional guidance, in the implementation process, including preparation of Regulations, forms, fees, and procedures; and to undertake necessary amendments to the Bill with the Legislature.”

“This legislation also gives effect to a Virgin Islands community-wide Referendum held in 2014 that approved the introduction of the medical-use sale of cannabis products by a majority of the voters,” Bryan said. “Since the Referendum, it is clear that marijuana-use policy in the United States has been changing rapidly in favor of medicinal and recreational use and will continue, even potentially on the federal level.”

This bill continues a trend in U.S territories where reform advocates have secured concessions on the use of marijuana. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, for instance, fully legalized marijuana last year, prior to establishing a medical marijuana system.

Nelson, the bill’s sponsor, is looking ahead to the implementation period and making further gains in marijuana policy reform.

“I am ready to assist with the establishment of rules and regulations which will be the next step,” he said. “However, each jurisdiction cannot be satisfied with our own success in getting local law changed, but must continue the charge until there are changes to federal government law.”

“This is just another small victory on the rugged road to full legalization.”

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