US Virgin Islands Governor looks to cannabis to mitigate economic losses
Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D) of the US Virgin Islands resubmitted an amended version of the Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act on Tuesday, May 19, arguing that tax revenues from marijuana sales could help mitigate some of the islands’ economic losses due to COVID-19.
Bryan’s proposal came just shy of the US Virgin Islands’ reopening date to tourists (June 1). Many travel agents agree that marijuana legalization will increase tourism to the islands, which can also stimulate the economy as it becomes a destination for “marijuana tourism.” Bryan argued that tax revenue from marijuana could also fund USVI’s Government Employees Retirement System (GERS), which had been suggesting a 42% cut in benefits. In a recent press conference, he stated: “While we cannot fix the entire GERS in one fell swoop, we do have pending legislation in the Cannabis Act that will start to chip away at the problem. ”
This proposal has been a long time coming. In January of 2019, Bryan signed Act No. 8167, the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act, which legalized medicinal marijuana. On December 2, he expanded on this by introducing The Virgin Islands Cannabis Use Act, which would allow anyone 21 and older, including travelers, to legally purchase marijuana. However, various legislators opposed this version, citing licensing concerns and an inadequate concern for social equity, and stating that tax revenue from marijuana would not be nearly enough to address deficits in GERS.
Bryan affirmed that he had met with these critics before submitting his revised proposal, stating: “We have listened to the concerns of the public and our senators have included them in the new draft of the bill.” The new proposal includes a revised licensing structure and new purchasing limits. It also includes a taxation structure where there would be no tax for those purchasing marijuana for medical reasons, a tax of 7.5% for residents of the USVI, and a tax of 25% for tourists. It would establish a “cannabis fund” that would receive 20% of tax revenue from marijuana and would give it to fund programs such as cannabis testing, job training, and substance abuse treatment.