Rules Panel Forwards Nelson’s Cannabis Board Nomination

USVI Department of Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson testifies virtually before the Rules and Judiciary Committee. (Screenshot of streamed session)
USVI Department of Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson testifies virtually before the Rules and Judiciary Committee. (Screenshot of streamed session)

The Rules and Judiciary Committee on Friday forwarded the nomination for Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson to serve on the Cannabis Advisory Board, putting an end to the notion that the longtime cannabis activist had a potential conflict of interest.

Nelson, who was the primary sponsor of the Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act, which legalized medical cannabis in the territory, said his 16 years of advocacy has prepared him “to add tremendous value to the discussions, considerations, and decisions for which the board is tasked.”

During Friday’s committee meeting Sen. Myron Jackson said the conflict of interest the body identified before is now no longer relevant. In prior meetings it had been explained that the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands states no member of the Legislature can be appointed to any office that has been created by the Legislature during or one year after the expiration of their term.

But should Nelson’s nomination be ratified, he plans to serve on the board and supports the enhanced legislation proposed by Gov. Albert Bryan that revises the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act.

“Senators, as you already know, no law is perfect. You are also quite acquainted with the laws of supply and demand,” Nelson said. “There has always been an appetite for cannabis use and this has only increased since modern science and research have proven what Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and the Ancients have known and professed for decades and millenniums.”

The nominee proposed that if locally cultivated cannabis was available for sale in a regulated market with policies established by the Cannabis Advisory Board, it would be a win for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nelson said it would improve the economy and perhaps enhance the territory’s human and environmental health.

Sen. Novelle Francis said he didn’t always support marijuana related legislation, “but has since garnered an open mind and have had many discussions in respect to cannabis and the legalization of it … Now, I am open to it.”

Nelson told senators, “The interest is way more than you may see publicly.” Cannabis users spread across the entire spectrum Nelson said and added that many individuals are “closet users” for fear of risking their jobs and reputations.

Nelson said he hopes the advisory board can set up cannabis use permits before the end of the year.

“It depends on how serious we are,” he said. “But there is a cookie cutter footprint for us to model moving forward, we are not pioneers at this point.”

The committee also forwarded three additional bills to the Committee of the Whole, and moved forward the nominations of Lois Hassel-Habtes to serve on the Board of Trustees of the University of the Virgin Islands.

The three bills are:
No. 33-0275 appropriates over $8 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund for the construction of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium Project in St. Croix.
No. 33-0077 seeks to establish penalties for people who exploit the elderly requiring offenders to pay restitution.
No. 33-0245 which if ratified would honor Pastor Hector González’s 56 years of ministry by naming a road after him.

All committee members – Sens. Francis, Jackson, Janelle Sarauw, Alicia Barnes, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James Sr., and Steven Payne Sr.- were present for the rules and judiciary hearing.