In November 2014, 56.5% of voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands voted in favor of a non-binding referendum indicating their support of legalizing medical cannabis. Four long years later, and after several failed bills were introduced by Senator Positive T.A. Nelson, the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act was finally signed into law by Governor Albert Bryan Jr. on January 19.
The U.S. territory joins two others, Guam and Puerto Rico, in their endeavors to provide compassionate relief for citizens. In a statement released from Government House, Bryan expressed his support, “I have approved the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act because it is a step in the right direction toward assisting Virgin Islanders suffering from autoimmune and other debilitating medical conditions.”
System Oversight, Regulations and Implementation
While there will still be certain details to work out in the coming months, there are a number of details already spelled out in the act. An Office of Cannabis Regulation (OCR), operating within the Department of Licensing, will manage the system. It will be in charge of licensing cultivators and patients, as well as overseeing testing facilities, manufacturing operations and dispensaries.
In addition, the U.S. Virgin Islands will have a Cannabis Advisory Board with nine members appointed by the governor. It will be comprised of representatives from a variety of areas, the health department to agriculture, disability rights advocacy, finance and more. The board will supervise the OCR and develop new rules and regulations for it to implement.
The language of the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act already spells out a number of areas in regards to infrastructure:
- Transfers of cannabis from a manufacturing facility to a dispensary will incur a 10% excise fee.
- Patients will pay a 5% excise fee on all sales.
- A $500k loan will be used to launch the program, but it must be self-sustaining within two years.
- Beyond funding the system, revenue will go towards: drug education/rehabilitation, agricultural programs, infrastructure, medical tourism, as well as funding both sports and arts programs.
- Application fees for Tier 1 growers (maximum of 100 plants) will not exceed $500, while larger growers (1,000 plants), manufacturers and dispensaries will pay no more than $5,000.
- A draft of additional rules must be created within 120 days and finalized no more than 60 days later while allowing the public to provide feedback within a 30-day window.
- Cultivators will not be allowed to also apply for and own dispensaries.
- The OCR will begin issuing ID cards to patients within 120 days. It must also register all qualified businesses within 90 days of their application submission.
What Patients Who Are Virgin Island Residents Can Expect
Residents must first register with the OCR ($50 fee maximum) and receive an ID card allowing them to purchase, possess up to four ounces and consume medical cannabis. They may also request a card that specifically allows them to grow up to 12 plants in a secure location.
Patients must have written certification of a qualifying condition from their healthcare provider (doctor, homeopath, nurse practitioner, etc.) with whom they have a “bona fide” relationship in regards to their condition. A copy of the submitted application for the registry and the provider’s certification can be used as a temporary ID until the OCR sends a permanent card.
At this point, eligible medical ailments include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, hospice care, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, chronic pain, neuropathic pain, autism, opiate use disorder, or the treatment of these conditions or conditions that cause cachexia or wasting, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms.
Like other programs around the world, the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act makes it illegal to drive, operate a boat, train or aircraft under the influence. Smoking in public is barred and a landlord is not required to allow a patient to grow on their property. Patients who violate the new laws may have their ID card suspended or revoked, either temporarily or permanently. They may also face criminal charges and penalties. Patients caught selling cannabis will be permanently banned from the program.
Patients, registered caregivers, program businesses and other involved parties will also be protected from arrest and prosecution for medical cannabis related activities, as long as they’re aligned with all applicable laws. They will also be protected from discrimination in regards to housing, child custody, enrollment in schools, medical care and employment, off-hours only. Employers will still be able to prohibit employees from working under the influence.
The Potential for Medical Cannabis Tourism
The Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act also opens the door to medical cannabis tourism by giving registered patients from areas where it’s legal, access to a non-resident ID card which will allow them to buy and use cannabis when visiting or first moving to the Virgin Islands. Patients who are not registered in their “home jurisdiction” but have an eligible condition can also find a physician, then apply for and receive an ID card. The cost to get a card is currently $50 for five days and $100 for 30 days.
While Medicine Man Technologies has witnessed the legalization of numerous medical cannabis programs, it seems that the Virgin Islands has put a lot of thought into the now passed legislation. Basic structure to allowing patients from other states and countries to support its tourism industry, these inclusions just might reflect the four long years it took to make medical cannabis a reality in this Caribbean archipelago.
If you wish to start your own legal enterprise in the U.S. or anywhere across the globe, please contact us for private consulting, as well as help with licensing, cultivating, dispensary operations and more.