Pubdate: Sat, 18 Aug 2012
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2012 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: Lou Mattei


ST. THOMAS - As the territory waded this week into a politically 
charged discussion about whether medical marijuana and industrial 
hemp should be legal, top law enforcement officials responded with a 
reminder: weed is still against the law.

You would not necessarily know that from listening to some of the 
testimony offered Monday and Tuesday in the V.I. Legislature.

At least three St. Thomas residents openly attested to buying and 
smoking marijuana to relieve a host of medical ailments, from 
neurological injuries to psychiatric conditions. Some said they 
feared arrest and prosecution for the steps they take to treat their 
illnesses. Others criticized police and prosecutors for allowing 
simple possession cases to clog up the legal system.

V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer rebuffed that characterization 
and said prosecutors have limited resources and plenty of more 
serious cases to deal with.

"We're not looking for more work," he said.

Frazer said simple possession cases can "become annoying" for police 
officers and the costs to taxpayers typically far exceed whatever 
fines are levied in association with the crime. He described his 
approach to prosecuting simple possession cases as a balancing act.

"If we're out there arresting every single person with a joint, it 
will just take away resources from other cases," he said. "You have 
to balance it. It is against the law, and we have to carry out our 
duty as resources permit."

Frazer described cases in which people "just for spite" will not hide 
the fact that they are smoking a joint from police officers and said 
other times people have admitted to police that "selling weed is what they do."

St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Darren Foy differentiated between 
incidents in which officers actually witness a crime and the 
testimony before the Senate in which several individuals admitted to 
buying and using the drug.

"It don't put us in no predicament," Foy said. "If we catch them 
buying illegal drugs, we'll arrest them. But just because you say you 
do something doesn't mean you actually do it. There's a difference."

Frazer said he was not troubled by the ease with which some of the 
speakers said they could buy marijuana.

"I'm not troubled by it because it's a fact I know of and am aware 
of," he said. "Marijuana is the primary drug of choice in the 
territory. I know it's all over the place. It's very pervasive in our 

He said that watching the Senate testimony, he was struck by the 
disparity between how marijuana can affect different individuals.

"One of the stark realities I saw at those hearings was we saw people 
who tell us they use it for medicinal purposes and mostly they are 
functional individuals," Frazer said. "But there is another group 
that has been using marijuana for a long time, and it has destroyed 
their lives."

Frazer said the potential downside is only part of the reason he does 
not support either of the referendum questions proposed by Sen. 
Terrence Nelson about whether to legalize medical marijuana and 
industrial hemp. Frazer said he would have to see better numbers on 
the economic impact of industrial hemp before supporting such a 
measure and that it would be confusing to change the law to legalize 
it before any major manufacturers were actually proposing to come to 
the territory to process hemp.

He also pointed to the possibility of federal pushback if the 
territory ultimately implements a medical marijuana program.

Yet, Frazer said he was open to - and is in the process of 
considering - changes to the territory's simple possession laws that 
would impose different penalties, such as fines or community service 
instead of incarceration.

Frazer was careful to distinguish between his input on any potential 
legislation and the two proposals currently before the Senate, which 
would place the following two questions before voters in November:

- - Are you in favor of the Legislature enacting legislation that 
allows for the licensing and regulation of medicinal marijuana 
patients, care-givers, cultivators and distribution centers?

- - Are you in favor of promoting the production, processing, 
manufacture and distribution of industrial hemp in the Virgin Islands?

If voters answer those questions in the affirmative, the Senate would 
have to pass legislation and the governor would have to sign it 
before either proposal becomes legal.

V.I. Police Commissioner Henry White Jr. said he did not want to 
comment on the issue while it is before the Legislature. He did say 
the Police Department is in the process of compiling statistics on 
marijuana-related arrests to provide to the Senate if necessary.

Foy also ceded to the law - and the Legislature - on questions raised 
during testimony about whether marijuana should be decriminalized 
across the board.

"All I know is marijuana is illegal, and police will continue to 
enforce the laws," Foy said. "It's plain and simple: It's a law on 
the books, you understand? The Senate, they're the ones who write the 
laws, and if they feel like it needs to change, then they can change it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom