When people think about the legalisation of marijuana, they often imagine a scene of chaos as crowds run amok, smoking up a storm, lazing around and getting nothing done. Vehicles crash, airplanes fall from the sky, the stores run out of food, and the End is nigh. In short, it is the end of the world.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, those people in our community who want to use cannabis are using it now. And from the point of view of many, it would be better to regulate the use of cannabis through licences and fees rather than ban it outright with prison time if a person is caught.

Regulation generally comes at three different levels, aside from the current state of cannabis being totally against the law.

Medical use

The first and most common form of regulation is approval for medical use. This is strongly supported by medical research and it is well enough documented that it doesn’t need to be reviewed here. The way that this system works is that a very few people are approved to grow cannabis in secure locations, and then it is processed and packaged, and available only through an approved pharmacy and with a prescription from a doctor. With this system, the government is easily able to licence the grower and the pharmacy, and the doctors of course are already licensed. Fees are relatively simple to collect, and society benefits from the medical uses of cannabis on a restricted basis. Without a prescription, cannabis remains illegal for everyone else in the community.

Partial decriminalisation

The second approach is partial decriminalisation. At present, possession of cannabis is a felony in the Virgin Islands and carries a prison sentence upon conviction. This requires a process from arrest, investigation, trial, conviction and imprisonment that is time consuming and expensive. By partially decriminalising marijuana, the punishment for possession of small amounts is reduced to a misdemeanour, resulting in confiscation and a fine — similar to a parking ticket or a fine for driving without a seatbelt. This approach would actually increase enforcement, because the effort required by the enforcing officer is reduced, and the punishment is applied immediately and collected easily. Enforcement would result in financial gain for the police services, and would free up time for the officers to focus on investigation of matters far more dangerous than cannabis.

Controlled substance?

Over time, the community could decide whether further decriminalisation would be suitable. This third approach would result in cannabis being a controlled substance very similar to alcohol. Sellers and distributors would be licensed, and age requirements for use would be in place. Fees would be collected for licences, and a licence for possession could be considered. Cannabis would have to be purchased from licensed sellers in labelled containers, and taxes and fees could be applied. Penalties could be imposed on those who possess uncertified cannabis or are unlicensed to possess or sell cannabis. Age restrictions would of course apply, and licences would be denied to previous offenders known to law enforcement.

This level of cannabis management makes the cannabis economy a part of the larger economy while at the same time maintaining a level of control over what many persons regard to be a drug or narcotic.

‘Positive aspects’

With any of these systems the community is able to benefit from the many positive aspects of cannabis use that are well documented. Over time, this same community would be able to determine for itself if more needs to be done. There are now many jurisdictions around the world that are learning about how cannabis can become a part of communities that until recently outlawed it. We would be wise to learn from others and then decide for ourselves what is best for the VI in a world that is growing more receptive to the idea of the responsible management of the cannabis resource.