Plans to legalise marijuana were announced during the second annual Hempfest last July at Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke. Above, Jamaican Luciano Messenjah performs at the event. (File photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

The second annual Foxy’s Hempfest boasted more vendors this year, as well as Jamaican roots reggae artist Luciano Messenjah and several speakers, all to support open discussion about the possibility of legalising marijuana in the territory.

Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced a draft bill that he said has been in the works since the previous administration.

“Very shortly you can expect that … we’ll be engaging the community in a discussion about the legalisation of marijuana,” he said.

Earlier this year, the United States Virgin Islands passed a medical marijuana law sponsored by St. Croix Senator Positive T.A. Nelson, who is currently serving a seventh term in the legislature.

At Hempfest, Mr. Nelson spoke about the importance of perseverance in changing marijuana policy.

“The only thing wrong with cannabis now are the laws,” he said, adding, “Legalisation doesn’t mean reckless allowance.”

Dr. Wheatley echoed his sentiment, stating that discussions around legalisation here will include protecting children, rules for operating machinery and driving, and other regulation.

“We don’t believe that this should be a free for all,” he said. Nevertheless, attempts to legalise the drug here likely won’t be easy: In the past, legalisation has faced fierce opposition from some segments of the community, including pastors who have argued that it would spur an increase in crime.

Rastafarian group

But other organisations present at the JVD gathering expressed strong support.

Under the motto “Herb is the healing of the nation,” a group identifying itself as the VI Rastafari Sacramental Cannabis Council hosted a booth selling food, lentil balls, cauliflower, lentil pates, and cannabis balls while spreading its message. The group currently hosts meetings in three islands in the USVI, though members said they represent this territory as well.

“Since 1937 until now cannabis has been demonised,” said president Tafari Tzaddi.

He explained that Rastafarians who use the plant as a sacra- mental practice have also been demonised over the years. Because of this, the Rastafarian community has been “disenfranchised,” he claimed.

With legalisation occurring in many countries across the globe, Mr. Tzaddi said Rastafarians should not be left behind, especially since they have been advocating for the use of marijuana for years.

During his speech, Dr. Wheatley highlighted the importance of recognising that community as well.

“The Rastafari community has been preaching and the world is finally catching up to the information that has been shared from the Rastafari community for a very long time,” he said.

He also shares the view that the Rastafarian community should be a priority when dealing with legalisation of marijuana. Mr. Tzavvi said the VIRSCC has several priorities.

“First, we want an open apology: the government acknowledging they’ve done us wrong for 60-plus years,” he ex- plained. “We also want the Rastafari sitting in prison to be released and their records expunged. We want our sacramental rights to be acknowledged and upheld by the law.”

Mr. Tzavvi also said instead of dispensaries, the community wants to see “holistic healing centres” open up.

Hempfest vendors

At the Hempfest, many VI vendors set up shop as well.

Potters Debbie Entwistle and Karl Burnett displayed water pipes and handspun pendants. Ria O’Hagen from Odd Box Arts and Crafts offered handwoven goods.

Dean Labueshagne of Beachin’ Biltong sold his beef biltong alongside Alex Durante’s E.C. Soap Co. products. Ameka Hydman, creator of VI Essentials, had marijuana-scented soaps for sale, while John Chinnery represented products from HempWorx.

Bakers Collette Peters and Joset Allen had baked goods including Rice Krispies treats. Local artist Joseph Hodge As- ante had his artwork on display, and Tidal Roots Farm had fresh produce available.

With a full-service double-bar behind Foxy’s, entertainers and performers geared up for a night of music headlined by Jamaican roots reggae artist Mr. Messenjah.

Patrons were able to purchase dinner buffet tickets and upstairs seats with a view of the stage.

The show lasted until 12:30 a.m. and many attendees grabbed the 1 a.m. ferry back to Tortola.