Nominees for Cannabis, Chiropractic and Other Boards Move to Senate

Sen. Kenneth Gittens questioned WAPA officials about disappearing millions. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)
Sen. Kenneth Gittens speaks on his reservations about medical marijuana at a recent Senate committee meeting. (V.I. Legislature file photo by Barry Leerdam)

Experience as law enforcement officers may have curbed the enthusiasm of Sens. Novelle Francis Jr. and Kenneth Gittens for the potential relaxation of medical marijuana laws.

Francis said Wednesday, though he questioned the laws, he was bound to follow them. Gittens said he was not so sure that legalized medical marijuana was the “cure all” many seemed to think it was.

Their comments came at a Rules and Judiciary Committee hearing, where two nominees, Christopher Jones and Dr. Gary Jett, were being considered for the V.I. Cannabis Advisory Board.

Other nominations considered at the hearing were Jason Williams for the Board of Chiropractic Examiners; Eavey-Monique James, for Administrator of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children; Charisse Hart for Deputy Administrator of the Compact; and Keith O’Neale for the Public Finance Authority Board of Directors.

The Committee voted to move all nominations to the full Senate.

Jett has practiced on St. Croix for 20 years and in South Florida for eight. He testified he limited his practice to pain management.

“I have been practicing as a certified medical marijuana physician in the state of Florida for the last three to four years,” he said. “This has been a win-win situation for me and my patients that seek a medical marijuana prescription, as I have learned a great deal firsthand regarding how beneficial cannabis can be for a variety of ailments. This opportunity has been very gratifying for me in my quest to help relieve the pain and suffering of my fellow beings on this planet and improve their functional level and consequentially improving their quality of life.”

Jones, who was nominated as the disability advocate for the Cannabis Board said, “I will work with the team to clearly establish and document the board’s mission, vision and goal.”

Jones was raised on St. Croix and had a 21-year career at Hovensa. After the refinery closed, he worked at the Department of Labor and opened his own business.

Francis asked Jett if he had seen abuse in medical use of marijuana in Florida. Jett answered, “No.”

Francis also asked about the possibility of rising abuse of marijuana by youth. Jett said he was against youth using marijuana because their brains were still developing, and the marijuana could affect that development.

Gittens said he was in “limbo” concerning Jett’s domicile. Jett said it was in the territory, but admitted he was registered to vote in Florida. Gittens added he liked Jett’s emphasis on quality control.

Sen. Janelle Sarauw said patients from St. John could be prescribed marijuana by doctors on St. Thomas but it would be illegal to cross the water with the drug. Federal law still makes possession of marijuana a crime.

Senators also had many questions for James and Hart about the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children was drafted in 1960 to ensure protection of services for children who are placed across state lines for foster care and adoption.

The nominees said problems did arise because of a shortage of social workers in the territory. James said social workers were often burned out “running from putting out one fire to put out another.”

Sarauw told the pair that the Department of Human Services needed to be aggressive in filling positions “so you don’t have to be burned out.”

O’Neale, who has been on the Public Finance Authority Board for 12 years, was asked for updates on the Paul E. Joseph Stadium project. He said it had not been discussed recently by the board. Gittens said it was “heartbreaking” just seeing a mountain of dirt where a stadium was promised 10 years ago.

“We really got to do something,” he said.

Attending the hearing were Sens. Sarauw, Francis, Alicia Barnes, Gittens, Myron Jackson and Javan James. Absent was Steven Payne Sr.