What the Candidates Say About Government Transparency and Marijuana Legalization

In this series, the Source introduced the community to the platforms of the candidates for governor and gauged their approaches to issues in the territory. The Source sent each gubernatorial team a set of questions earlier this summer and ran the answers in the order in which each candidate responded. The Source invites comments on these articles in the hopes of creating a dialogue among voters. This story covers all of the candidates’ answers to the fourth and fifth questions to allow for easy comparison across candidates. The answers below are ordered per the ballot position of each candidate.

The Source:
Question 4: How will you help make Government more transparent?
Question 5: How do you feel about legalization of marijuana and why?

1 – Kenneth E. Mapp

Transparent: This administration continues to be open to answering all questions from the media at frequent news conferences and has recently launched a website where the public can track the spending of recovery funds. We established the USVI Hurricane Recovery site through the PFA to provide the public with data on federal funding awarded to the U.S. Virgin Islands to assist in its response, recovery and resiliency from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Information about various grants, programs and resources available to the territory and awards to date are available. We also requested and received federal support for an Office of Accountability where local and federal officials, the media and the public can remain informed about projects and spending.

Some of our laws must be amended for more clarity in terms of what data can be legally released. For example, not all personnel records qualify as public information.

Marijuana: As I have said on many occasions, I will support comprehensive legislation put before me for the decriminalization of both medical and recreational marijuana as a matter of both compassion and common sense. Appropriate safeguards are obviously required, but we must also include mechanisms to revisit the cases of those convicted of marijuana-related offenses. Further, it is essential that all laws protect the business interests of our local growers and processors. If this is to provide economic opportunity – it must be to our farmers first.

2 – Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg

Mr. Donastorg did not supply answers to What The Candidates Say questions.

3 – Soraya Diase Coffelt

Transparent: The answer is contained in the fifth transformational idea of the V.I. FIRST plan: Transform the inner workings of our government. This platform idea provides clear strategic vision and direction to the teams of experts and government entities charged with making progress and being accountable and transparent to the people of the V.I.

Our goal is to “Rebuild the credibility of the Virgin Islands government, beginning with the Governor’s Office., and be vision oriented and transparent.”

Our first strategy is to make all aspects of government finances and activities transparent to the people of the V.I. by fully complying with the government in the Sunshine Act and open all meetings for the media and public to attend, except where expressly prohibited by law.

Tactics to implement include the following:

– Issue an executive order to all commissioners and heads of governmental agencies that public notice of all meetings must comply with the law.
– Require that public notice be through all forms of media possible.
– Ensure that meeting spaces can adequately accommodate public and media.

Our second strategy will be to fully comply with the Government Transparency Act of 2012 that requires the Bureau of Information Technology to establish and maintain an official internet website that is electronically searchable by the public at no cost and that contains a comprehensive database of recipients and expenditures of the territory’s funds. This law requires that BIT present information in the database in a manner that is intuitive to people, including graphical representations. Tactics to implement include the following:

– Develop a team to review existing website for capabilities to perform needed functions.
– Have team work with commissioners and heads of agencies to gather the necessary information.
– Upload all information.
– Input keywords into search engine to populate the universe of data.
– Pilot test website.
– Announce the new website via media and allow the public to search public records.
– Ensure information is uploaded on a regular schedule thereafter.

Our third strategy is to re-establish communication channels with all bond-rating agencies, including Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch.

Tactics to implement include the following:

– Contact each bond-rating agency and determine the information they require to begin assessing the financial situation.
– Re-establish contractual ties with each rating agency acknowledging applicable criteria and polices, as has been done in the territory’s past.
– Supply the information to each bond-rating agency and provide updates as needed.

We will communicate regularly with the public about our financial standings and be open with how the people’s money is being spent.

Marijuana: First, it is against federal law to possess marijuana. As long as Congress says it is illegal, so it will be under the Coffelt/Nicholson administration. Because it is against federal law, banks that are FDIC insured will not allow monies deposited into it from marijuana sales. The airspace and waters above and around the Virgin Islands are regulated by the federal government, so it would be illegal to travel with it at any time outside an island. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a tough stance against the legalization of marijuana and the new U. S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands, Gretchen Shappert, echoes his stance. In January 2018, AG Sessions broke from the Obama administration’s position on marijuana, allowing federal prosecutors to enforce federal marijuana laws more aggressively.

Second, Soraya spent several years as a judge assigned to the Family Division of the Superior Court and saw firsthand the drastic negative effects that illegal drug use has on our youth, especially our young men, and their families. Apart from the federal prohibition, Soraya does not support making marijuana more accessible to our youth through legalizing its use.

While it may appear that states such as Colorado are experiencing a windfall and it is tempting to jump on the bandwagon, we do not believe we need to legalize marijuana to attract visitors or save our failing economy. We have too much to offer and with our plan to diversify and invest in tourism, we do not need to rely on mind alternating drugs to build our tourism experience.

Also, states that have legalized marijuana are experiencing troubling issues. There are studies establishing that there have been increases in fatal car accidents, teen visits to the emergency room for marijuana-intoxication, as well as armed robberies, as monies are being kept in safes in establishments selling marijuana.

Many have spoken about how marijuana can revitalize the agriculture industry. We have plans for growing our ag industry and these plans involve growing food and becoming food sustainable, through investment and modernization. We do not believe we should use valuable land space growing marijuana for recreational use.

4 – Janette Millin Young

Transparent: We would implement all existing laws and rules concerning government transparency, responsiveness, and accountability. As a senator, I have always maintained the public abreast of my work through timely news releases, newsletters, radio broadcasts and through social media. Communication is key toward better understanding.

Marijuana: For medicinal and sacramental uses, we support the decriminalization of marijuana. The United States has now accepted medical marijuana as legitimate and our local voters supported its decriminalization in the 2016 election. In the territory, we have a sizable population of religious groups that use marijuana as a sacrament. The Rastafari are the most well-known and we respect them and their beliefs. We do see the need to ensure adequate enforcement for the protection of our residents. We support putting in place a real plan that shows how the implementation will work, how much money will it add to our coffers, who will have the ability to plant it and where it will be planted. We need to also ensure that it will generate commerce and will be an asset to our local agricultural community.

5 – Albert Bryan

Transparent: One of the initiatives the Bryan/Roach Administration intends to launch is a publicly accessible budget transparency website. We look forward to creating an online searchable budget that provides one point of access to all information about the executive budget and how tax dollars are being spent. In general, Sen. Roach (Bryan’s running mate is Sen. Tregenza Roach,) and I hope to build a true performance-based management culture in government. We want to establish key performance indicators that measure the results that matter most to the public. We intend to make the progress on those indicators publicly accessible. In so doing, we can be transparent in the areas where we are succeeding as well as where we may be falling short and quickly make adjustments to maximize resources.

Marijuana: I support the legalization of medicinal cannabis. My support is based on the proven health benefits in the relief of pain and treatment of symptoms for many serious ailments including cancer. Conventional medical treatment for these ailments is often expensive and/or results in severe side effects. Medicinal cannabis may also be a preferable alternative to opioids for management of pain in some instances.

I believe a properly regulated medicinal cannabis industry can provide relief to those seeking alternatives to conventional medicine and can also be an economic driver attracting new revenues for the Virgin Islands; 29 other states have arrived at the same conclusion. I am not currently advocating for legalization of the recreational use of marijuana as my focus is on medical cannabis and related research.

6 – Moleto A. Smith Jr.

Transparent: Transparency in government is essential for accountability and for public trust. The Smith- Frederick Administration will increase accountability and public confidence in government operations in the following manner:

– Implement a “Full Disclosure” policy related to compliance with federal and local public disclosure laws.
– Enhance and augment the ability of the Office of the Virgin Islands Inspector General to conduct routine audits of all government agencies by 1) increasing its operating budget to ensure availability of resources for those purposes, and, 2) providing adequate staffing, including professional auditors.

In addition to these measures, the Smith-Frederick Administration will increase government transparency by the public posting, via a GVI website, of contract awards, terminations, debarment or suspension of vendors from federal and/or local government contracting.

It must be strongly emphasized that the Smith-Frederick Administration will have zero-tolerance to public fraud and public corruption.

Marijuana: I support the decriminalization of marijuana, as well as the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Additionally, I support an approach to addressing the legalization of marijuana that complies with federal laws, as applicable to the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as an approach that takes into account the social and cultural characteristics of the territory.

7 – Warren Mosler

Transparent: Full disclosure of all aspects of finance and anything else that can be legally disclosed. It’s how I’ve always lived my life and conducted my businesses.

Marijuana: I don’t see public purpose served by making it a police matter. Our jails are not the place for those caught using marijuana.