The British Virgin Islands has said Yes to medical cannabis, but No to adult use.
The House of Assembly for the British Overseas Territory passed a medical cannabis bill last week, and its governor, Gus Jaspert, is expected to sign it when the government determines it is ready to implement the law.
Earlier versions of the bill sought to create full adult-use regulations, but that language was removed after calls for tighter controls. The bill introduces medical use regulations for cannabis and opens the door to cannabis cultivation, processing, and sales on the islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, the four major islands in the Northern Caribbean archipelago. (A proposal currently under consideration in the nearby United States Virgin Islands would legalize adult-use cannabis.)
Under the bill, known as British Overseas Territory’s Cannabis Licencing Act, and under amendments to the existing Drug Prevention of Misuse Act, anyone over the age of eighteen will be allowed to possess up to one gram of “medicinal cannabis for medicinal or therapeutic use,” without providing medical documentation.
For residents and tourists who want to possess more cannabis, up to fifty grams, or ten grams of cannabis resin, they would need to see a doctor and complete a “self-declaration” document.
The bill creates licenses for “the analysis, cultivation, processing, importation, exportation, distribution, and sale of cannabis in the Virgin Islands” according to its text. The legislation, however, limits the consumption or possession of cannabis in public places, unless a site has been designated for that purpose by the Virgin Islands Cannabis Licensing Authority; the bill does allow for lounge licenses. Cannabidiol (CBD) or other cannabis products that contain less than 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are not subject to regulation.
“I am not here to promote any recreational use of marijuana,” Andrew Fahie, Premier and Minister of Finance, told members of the Assembly last week. “But, I am here to advocate for the medical marijuana industry in a controlled and highly regulated framework.”
“The Territory needs the money; the government needs revenue,” Fahie said. “We are constantly being told we need to find our own money to recover from catastrophic events. We need to develop diversity in the economy. We need to create better opportunities for our people, and the medical cannabis industry is one way to do that.”
Fahie added the government of the Territory, which has a population of just under 30,000, is targeting the creation of an industry for domestically cultivated cannabis valued at $30 million. To keep consumers in line with the government’s strict approach to cannabis law reform, heavy fines have been maintained. Any person who exceeds the possession limit of fifty grams without proper documentation could be fined up to $100,000 or face up to ten years in prison, no less than three years.
Penalties will still be levied against people who illegally import or export cannabis, illegally possess cannabis, unlawfully sell cannabis, operate a vehicle while under the influence, permit a minor to use cannabis, or cultivate without a license.
Cultivation will also be heavily regulated by the Virgin Island government to remain in line with common laws the territory shares with the United Kingdom, according to Premier Fahie.
In order to control the location and supply of cannabis, cultivation will only be permitted on government-owned lands designated by the Authority. The Act creates a cultivation zone of fifty acres in Paraquita Bay, Tortola where government-owned half-acre plots of land will be given to approved cannabis cultivators and processors of cannabis. After the proposal has been implemented in Tortola, the government will identify and add other sites to the proposal.
Under a companion bill, the Drugs Prevention of Misuse Amendment Act, 2020, introduced by Deputy Premier Carvin Malone, which is awaiting final approval in the Assembly, criminal records will be retroactively expunged for anyone convicted of possessing no more than fifty grams of cannabis or no more than ten grams of cannabis resin.
“We will decriminalize marijuana on that level. Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” Natalio Wheatley, the Territory’s Agriculture Minister, told the Assembly. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it more than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”
Under the criteria listed in the legislation, to have a record expunged a person must have been arrested at least a year ago and should have no subsequent criminal charges filed related to the arrest. The offenses must not have been committed in association with other indictable offenses under the Territory’s Criminal Code, and those convicted of trafficking aren’t allowed to have their convictions expunged.