A draft bill to legalize adult-use marijuana is under consideration in the British Virgin Islands and could soon be on its way to the legislature, according to the Minister of Agriculture in the U.S. territory.
While the specifics of the measure are yet to be disclosed, Dr Natalio Wheatley said that the draft legislation would end jail time for simple possession offenses and establish a well-regulated industry, whilst containing provisions to tackle youth consumption and impaired driving.
“Discussion about protecting children, discussions about operating heavy machinery and driving, and having a discussion about the proper regulation of marijuana [must be had] because we don’t believe this thing should be a free-for-all,” Dr Wheatley said during a speech at the second annual Hemp Fest on the neighboring island of Jost Van Dyke last month.
“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks. So, we don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”
The draft bill under review began life under the previous administration, and now Wheatley believes the time is right to hold community meetings around the island to discuss the proposal.
“If the population of the Virgin Islands, as I believe it to be, is ready for the legalization of marijuana, then we have to have a discussion about how we’re going to do it,” he said.
Though much about the bill is up for debate, it will ensure that individuals are no longer imprisoned for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
“We will decriminalize marijuana on that level. Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said.
“In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”
The announcement was welcomed in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) by former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, who sponsored a bill that succeeded in legalizing medical marijuana on the island earlier this year.
Nelson is now pushing for broader marijuana reform in the face of continued opposition.
“I told you already, it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”
“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”