The government’s plan to establish a medical marijuana industry in the Virgin Islands could be a sound idea, and we applaud the new administration for its decision to move forward with an initiative that is bound to spark controversy.
The project, however, needs to be done right.
In that regard, we already have concerns. Premier Andrew Fahie told the Standing Finance Committee recently that his government has been in talks with foreign companies that have proposed plans for at least 40 residents to grow the drug on 40 acres at Paraquita Bay, according to a report on the closed-door SFC proceedings.
However, when other legislators asked for details of the government’s involvement, Mr. Fahie apparently provided confusing answers, and he did not respond to this newspaper’s requests for clarification.
The lack of information is troubling, as is the government’s approach of meeting with potential partners behind closed doors at this early stage.
Instead, officials should start by working openly with the community to draft a roadmap for the way forward. The conversation should include farmers, law enforcers, social services agencies, health authorities, and other stakeholders who could be affected by a sudden influx of the drug in the territory.
The end result should be a plan that not only outlines the agricultural aspects of the initiative but also addresses the legislative reform needed to legalise and properly regulate marijuana here.
Those steps should be followed not by secret meetings, but by a public request for proposals designed to give partners here and abroad a chance to offer ideas. A transparent tendering process should come next so that government can find the best deal.
Even if a company is promising an arrangement that would cost nothing up front, the territory presumably would be providing a valuable resource — land — and government needs to find the partners that will bring the most to the table. Careful due diligence will be essential in ensuring that they have a demonstrable track record of expertise and success.
For the potential perils of projects conceived without the necessary preparations and community collaboration, one need only consider the failed greenhouses and BVI Airways, both of which cost taxpayers millions without bringing any benefits. Also detrimental was the first iteration of the post-Hurricane Irma debris removal project, which flopped after months-long delays contributed to a massive fire in the Coxheath dumpsite.
If medical marijuana is treated like these projects, it is unlikely to succeed. If, on the other hand, it is carried out transparently with community input, it could greatly benefit the territory’s economy, which needs to diversify.
The initiative could also lead to bigger things. As the discussions proceed, government should consider legalising marijuana for recreational use as well — especially given that restricting the drug just for “medical use” likely would prove next to impossible.
Though this broader proposal has raised concerns in the territory, we believe it makes sense: Recreational use, after all, is being legalised rapidly in other countries, giving governments a chance to regulate and earn from the already ubiquitous drug.
Legalisation also should help relieve the needless stress on the justice system that arises when residents are hauled before the courts for a small amount of the drug.
The new government, then, seems to be on to something. But without the transparency and good governance its members promised during the campaign season, medical marijuana will probably go up in smoke.