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)

Companion bills designed to legalise medicinal marijuana and expunge criminal records of those charged with carrying small amounts of the drug were introduced for a first reading on June 19 in the House of Assembly.

The proposed 42-page Cannabis Licensing Act, 2020, which was Gazetted on June 23, would establish the Cannabis Licensing Authority to oversee the “licensing of the analysis, cultivation, processing, importation, exportation, distribution and sale of cannabis in the Virgin Islands,” according to the bill text. Premier Andrew Fahie said on June 22 that government aims to dedicate 50 acres of land to the cultivation of medical marijuana on half-acre plots, employing a targeted 100 VI farmers.

“When persons hear about medicinal marijuana and say, ‘Oh, they want to make everybody high,’ they forget it’s a specific strain that we’re going to be growing to export,” Mr. Fahie said. “Could you imagine little BVI exporting and having an opportunity to make at a minimum, if we do it right, $30 million? And that’s being very conservative from our projections.”

Possession

The bill would allow adults to possess up to one gram of cannabis for medicinal or therapeutic use. Those who complete a “self-declaration form” would be permitted to possess between one and 50 grams.

Anyone in possession of marijuana who doesn’t follow the regulations could be deemed “in possession for the purpose of supplying it to another” or for drug trafficking. The burden of proof is placed on the accused.

The penalties would include on summary conviction a fine up to $100,000 and 10 years in prison. Upon conviction on indictment, offenders could face a fine up to $200,000 and up to 15 years in prison.

Penalties could also be levied against people who illegally import or export cannabis in the VI, illegally possess cannabis, unlawfully sell cannabis, purchase cannabis without a licence, operate a vehicle while under the influence, permit a minor to use marijuana, or use medicinal marijuana without a licence.

Medical consult

Also under the bill, an authorised medical practitioner would be able to issue a document stipulating the dosage and form of medicinal marijuana for up to a three-month supply, at which point the person would have to return for an exam and updated prescription.

On June 19, Deputy Premier Carvin Malone also introduced the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2020. The relatively short piece of legislation would expunge the criminal record of anyone found guilty of possessing no more than 50 grams of cannabis or no more than 10 grams of cannabis resin.

Certain criteria must be met first, though. The person must have been arrested at least a year ago; must not have any subsequent criminal charges filed related to the arrest; must have committed an offence that is not associated with indictable offences under Criminal Code 1997; must not have supplied cannabis with the intent to traffic; and must not have supplied to individuals younger than 18.

The court can also consider the petitioner’s current age, age at the time of the offence, time since conviction, and the consequences of having the charge on their record.

“In making its decision, the court shall consider appropriate non-penal measures as a condition of discharge aimed at education and rehabilitation, including counselling and community service,” according to the bill text.


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