The governor of the US Virgin Islands signed a marijuana legalization bill into law, as well as a separate measure to facilitate expungements of prior cannabis-related convictions.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. put his name to the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act (Act 8680), which legalizes the use of the plant by adults for medical, recreational and sacramental purposes. The Virgin Islands is now the 25th state and territory in the USA to legalize recreational cannabis.
“From the beginning of the Bryan-Roach Administration, we have worked towards the legalization of the adult use of cannabis, and today, with the hard work of the members of the 34th Legislature and prior Legislatures and the efforts of my team, we are finally here and finally signing into law the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act,” Bryan Jr. said in a statement.
The new law establishes an Office of Cannabis Regulation charged with developing and implementing the rules that will govern the US territory’s legal marijuana market. However, legal cannabis sales are not expected to launch until several years from now, according to Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, the lead sponsor of the bill.
The legislation passed through the Virgin Islands legislature at the end of 2022.
The new law permits adults 21 and older to purchase marijuana from licensed vendors and consume it on site at establishments with licenses allowing for the practice.
Home cultivation of up to six mature plants is restricted to members of religious organizations that use cannabis in sacramental rituals.
Bryan and Sarauw both stressed the economic opportunities the marijuana legalization law opens up for Virgin Islands residents.
“We are bringing the opportunities to you, but you must also do your part to seize these opportunities. It is my goal to make sure many of us who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis are afforded every opportunity to participate in this new and legal cannabis industry,” Bryan said.
While legal marijuana sales may be some years off, individuals with prior cannabis-related convictions will be able to seek relief much sooner. Gov. Bryan announced at the signing ceremony that those with low-level marijuana possession convictions will be able to seek a pardon through the US Virgin Islands Department of Justice.
Additionally, Bryan signed accompanying legislation into law that establishes a task force responsible for facilitating automatic expungements of marijuana possession convictions concerning up to two ounces of cannabis. Virgin Islands court officials must begin the process of issuing such expungements within ten months of Bryan signing the bill into law.
In his statement, Bryan indicated that the criteria for expungement eligibility may be expanded over time to include other cannabis-related offenses.
Virgin Islands lawmakers had previously approved legislation to legalize medical marijuana in 2019, but the measure was never enacted into law. However, possession of one ounce or less of cannabis was previously decriminalized in 2014.