Sen. Gittens Writes a Letter to Gov. Bryan About Cannabis Legislation

Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens

Dear Governor Bryan:

Thank you for your efforts to identify new funding for the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS). We must make significant adjustments if we are to ensure our Territory’s long-term economic well- being. I truly applaud your willingness to take steps towards improving and even expanding the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act.

However, I must respectfully ask that you consider rescinding your call for Special Session on December 18, 2019 in order to allow for public review and comment on your draft legislation. A bill hastily passed last year (at the close of the 32nd Legislature) has led to difficulties in moving forward with current law. We must remember that new revenues from fines were promised, but never realized when cannabis was decriminalized in December 2014 through Act 7700. This new measure proposes what are essentially sweeping changes to public policy; therefore, we must afford the people of the Virgin Islands adequate opportunity to address any concerns or questions they may have about the bill. It is also essential that we hear from our law enforcement and tourism partners on this measure.

The world is moving towards decriminalizing the use of cannabis and the Virgin Islands should have long been at the forefront of this issue given our climate, local sacramental use and other factors. However, we need fully vetted legislation to ensure that the propose benefits to our community and retirement system are realized.

I have made a preliminary review of this legislation and, thus far, have mixed feelings about what has been proposed. While I won’t detail all of my concerns here, there are a few matters that stand out as especially problematic, for example:
Mandating that sacramental use be limited to those who are members of a non-profit organization in good standing
Allowing cannabis to be administered by nurses to minor students during the school day
Over regulation and prohibitive taxation spurring a larger underground market
Impractical geographic limitations on cannabis consumption and dispensaries
No clear strategy for enforcing the many new regulations proposed
Lack of details as to how tourism, which would represent the largest revenue source, will be incorporated
No plans to address restrictions related to the federal prohibition of cannabis

I understand the needs of GERS and support providing new economic opportunities for our people, but I strongly believe that this body and our citizenry require more than one-day session to vet this important legislation. I am calling for meeting to be held on all three islands where community members can ask questions, propose ideas and express any concerns. The end result will likely be a better bill and a plan that speaks to the best overall interest of our community.

Thank you for your continued efforts on behalf of our beloved Virgin Islands.

Kenneth L. Gittens

All Members of the 33rd Legislature of the Virgin Islands
Yvone Tharpes Esq., Chief Legal Counsel, 33rd Legislature of the Virgin Islands
David Bornn Esq., Chief Legal Counsel, Office of the Governor