On Aug. 10, the V.I. Cannabis Advisory Board (VICAB) in the U.S. Virgin Islands unanimously approved draft regulations for its medical cannabis program. On Aug. 12, the Office of Cannabis Regulations posted the draft publicly, and it will remain online for a 30-day public comment window that ends on Sept. 11. In addition to this, a meeting is set to be held in person on Aug. 31 as well.
According to the current draft, licenses will soon become available over the next three months, with cultivation licenses beginning on Oct. 3, research and development licenses on Oct. 26, manufacturing licenses on Dec. 5, and finally dispensary licenses on Dec. 27. Laboratory services request proposals will also open up on Oct. 12, with physician registration on Nov. 3, and patient registration on Dec. 14. All of the licenses will be open for 30 days after the start date, and once reviewed and scored, the results of any applicants that reach a score of 80% or more will be posted publicly.
Competition is fierce though, as the St. Thomas district is allowed to have eight level-one cultivation licenses, St. John will allow four, and St. Croix will allow one. However, this could be subject to change, as Executive Director Hannah Carty shared in March that “the exact number of licenses to be released on an annual basis will be determined by the Cannabis Advisory Board. They shall not release licenses that supersede the amounts allowed by 19 V.I. Code; Chapter 34,” Carty said.
VICAB was seeking to adopt a lottery system among qualifying license applicants, but V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Richard Evangelista, among others, opposed the idea. “The lottery system seems like it’s a duplicative effort and I don’t think it should be a lottery, I think it should be based on merit, as long as we have a valid, fair scoresheet,” said Evangelista. “I think it should be based on merit, not merit and a lottery.” The rules were amended to use a lottery only in the event of a tie.
The VICAB is operating on a one-time loan of $500,000 from the Office of Management & Budget. After two years, the department must fully fund itself through the fees it collects.
According to Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson, the timeline requires swift action. “The longer it takes to start the program, the longer it’s gonna take to generate the revenue to sustain itself, so that’s part of the hiccup right there, and we may have to ask for additional time from the Legislature if we don’t get to start up real soon,” Nelson said.
In response, Chairman Dr. Catherine Kean shared a message for viewers to provide insight into why the program has taken such a long time to put together. “I think we want the general public to realize that we never anticipated it taking this long to roll out,” said Kean. “All of the obstacles we encountered along the way, whether they were real obstacles or perceived to be obstacles…the last three years have been very trying. So, the $500,000 that we have been willing to pay back, I guess we have been whittling away at that to some degree. We’re just trying to really move forward. Once we get the rules and regulations out there, and utilizing this strategic plan, I think we can try and turn the corner so we can actually start to accrue some funding back once we get the licenses out.”
Voters in the Virgin Islands approved medical cannabis in 2014; legislators passed the Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act in 2018; and Gov. Albert Bryan signed the act into law in 2019. The VICAB held its first meeting in January 2020, and now two years later, the U.S. Virgin Islands is moving one step closer to the implementation of its program.
According to the St. Thomas Source, the program rules were supposed to be developed within 120 days of the act being signed by Gov. Bryan, but there was a delay when a new executive director was being sought out. Eventually, Hannah Carty was appointed the position in September 2021.
“Essentially this person is going to be, a play on words, the cultivator of the cannabis advisory board,” said Evangelista in September. “They are now tasked with running the Office of Cannabis Regulation. They are going to be our liaison to the actual office that is going to be charged with this; we just have oversight responsibility. They are going to be tasked with making sure the rules and regulations are being published, public comment is permitted and that is why it was integral to the process that we get a director on board.”