British Virgin Islands: Medical Cannabis Momentum Stalls

When it comes to the British Virgin Islands’ economy, cannabis could provide a significant boost. 

When Premier Andrew Fahie, who also serves as the country’s Minister of Finance,  delivered the national budget on November 19, he listed the forthcoming medical cannabis industry as a key source of revenue. Six months ago, the House Assembly for the British Overseas Territory passed legislation to establish the industry, spurring investor interest and enthusiasm among local farmers. 

But now, the rollout has stalled. 

The reason? The missing signature of Governor Augustus Jaspert, who, according to the British Virgin Islands Constitution, is required to assent to all legislation passed by the House before it can be formally adopted. Until Jaspert approves the legislation, the BVI government cannot move forward on medical cannabis by implementing the Cannabis Licencing Act and amendments to the existing Drug Prevention of Misuse Act.

Concerns over the delay were highlighted by BVI House Speaker Julian Willock on November 5. During his speech to open the House legislative session, he said there is no “plausible reason from the Governor” for not signing the legislation. 

The cannabis legislation in the British Virgin Islands initially sought to create full adult-use regulations, but that language was removed after calls for tighter controls. The current bill opens the door to medical cannabis on the islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, the four major islands in the Northern Caribbean archipelago.

Under the Cannabis Licencing Act and the accompanying amendments to the existing Drug Prevention of Misuse Act, anyone over the age of eighteen, including visitors, would be allowed to possess up to one gram of “medicinal cannabis for medicinal or therapeutic use,” without medical documentation. 

For residents and tourists who want to possess more cannabis, up to fifty grams, or ten grams of cannabis resin, they would need to see a doctor.

Additionally, the bill creates licenses for “the analysis, cultivation, processing, importation, exportation, distribution, and sale of cannabis in the Virgin Islands,” according to its text. The legislation, however, bans the consumption or possession of cannabis in public places, unless a site has been designated for that purpose by the Cannabis Licensing Authority; the bill does allow for lounge licenses. Cannabidiol (CBD) or other cannabis products that contain less than 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) will not be subject to regulation. 

“I’m really at a loss as to why it hasn’t been assented to,” Agriculture Minister Dr. Natalio Wheatley said in a recent interview with the local press. “The United Kingdom has shown themselves to be a good partner with the people of the Virgin Islands, they should help us develop our economy versus hurt our economy.”

“After you go through this whole democratic process, you have debates, you educate the people, you make changes based on what the public says. You go through the first, second, and third reading. You go through all of that and then you have one man who can just say none of what you did matters. If we’re not satisfied with it for whatever reason, that entire process will be for nothing,” Wheatley added.

The concern is also echoed by BVI Premier Andrew Fahie, who has a tenuous relationship with Jaspert on a range of national policy matters. 

“We hope that there will be no more unnecessary and unsubstantiated delays in getting the BVI’s medical marijuana industry established so that our people can start benefiting from this new initiative,” Fahie wrote in his recent national budget statement. 

As is the case with many other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, the British Virgin Islands is actively pursuing the commercialization of hemp and cannabis as part of the countries’ recovery efforts post-COVID-19, mirroring efforts in the United States. Fahie said the government of BVI, which has a population of just under 30,000, is targeting the creation of an industry for domestically cultivated cannabis valued at $30 million annually.

“Medical Marijuana is a blooming industry worldwide and here too in the Caribbean. It has the potential to earn the Territory millions of dollars in revenue and create jobs for our people,” Fahie said.

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