Pubdate: Mon, 11 May 2015
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2015 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: Joy Blackburn


Beyond Legalizing Medical Use, Senator Wants to Decriminalize Growing 
Small Amount for Personal Use

ST. CROIX - Sen. Terrence Nelson says he intends to move forward 
quickly with medical marijuana legislation - and other legislation 
dealing with marijuana - after returning in late April from a fact- 
finding trip to Washington and Colorado.

"I am convinced with conviction that we need to make cannabis 
available as a medicine, if nothing else," Nelson said.

He and a group from the territory visited Colorado and Washington 
looking into those states' experiences with legalizing marijuana, 
meeting with state officials and people involved in the marijuana industry.

Marijuana remains against federal law, but 23 states, the District of 
Columbia and Guam now allow for comprehensive medical marijuana or 
cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State 
Legislatures. In addition, recently approved efforts in 14 states 
allow use of "low THC, high cannabidiol" products for medical reasons 
in limited situations or as a legal defense, according to the organization.

Across the United States, there is a growing trend toward some form 
of marijuana legalization, particularly on the medical side.

A week ago, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla issued an 
executive order directing Puerto Rico's health department to 
authorize the use of some or all controlled substances or derivatives 
of the cannabis plant for medical use. It is not clear at this point 
how Puerto Rico's medical marijuana regulations will look. Puerto 
Rico's health secretary is due to submit a report on the matter in 
three months.

Washington and Colorado, the two states the group from the territory 
visited, have also implemented legalized recreational marijuana, in 
addition to having a medical marijuana industry.

In the territory

V. I. voters in November said yes to a referendum that asked whether 
the Legislature should take up the question of legalizing medical 
marijuana in the territory.

Nelson said last week that he will offer medical marijuana 
legislation - but that he also has an interest in separately pursuing 
full legalization of marijuana.

"I support full legalization, full access, I support that," Nelson 
said. "But I also respect the citizen's voice and where we're at."

He does not want to "shell shock" the community, he said.

"The discussion was medicinal marijuana. The referendum vote was on 
medicinal marijuana, so the bill that I'm going to write is going to 
be medicinal marijuana," Nelson said. "I'm respecting the fact that I 
asked the public a specific question and that is the law I want to give them."

Medical marijuana

Nelson expects his staff to have a draft bill that would legalize, 
license and regulate a medical marijuana industry in the territory 
compiled and in the hands of the Legislature's legal counsel by the 
end of the month, he said.

Then, legal counsel has 45 days to get the bill into the proper 
format, checked for legal sufficiency and back to him, he said. After 
that, it would be assigned to a committee and go through the committee process.

Nelson said he plans to differentiate in the bill between medical 
marijuana and "marijuana used medicinally."

Medical marijuana would require a doctor's diagnosis and 
recommendation, but "marijuana used medicinally" would involve self- 
diagnosis and self-medicating, he said.

Asked whether "marijuana used medicinally" could cross into 
recreational use, Nelson acknowledged that it could.

"The latter sometimes takes on a recreational use. That is where 
individuals feel like they do not need to have a doctor diagnosis. 
That is where individuals have been traditionally self-medicating, 
using marijuana in various ways to ease various pains or sleeping 
conditions," Nelson said.

The bill, he said, would contain provisions to license and regulate 
medical marijuana, but for "marijuana used medicinally," would allow 
people to grow a small number of marijuana plants for their personal 
consumption to treat certain conditions that he said they could 
identify for themselves.

"I want to say there are certain conditions where individuals should 
be allowed to self-medicate and grow their own supply," he said.

Nelson said he is scrapping a draft piece of medical marijuana 
legislation and reworking it based on information gathered on the 
trip. The draft was not from the Legislature's legal counsel, he 
said. He has not made it public.

"I don't want to work from a draft where I have to look out for 
things where people sort of wrote themselves into the bill," Nelson said.

He said he will propose the medical marijuana bill as he sees fit - 
but realizes he also may have to compromise on some of its provisions.

"I just want to pursue the language. If my colleagues bring up 
concerns, I may have to compromise on what I'm proposing. Being a 
legislator, I understand that - and I'm willing," Nelson said. "What 
I'm dead certain on, however, is the need to make this available as a 
medicine. I'm even more convinced that we need to push until our 
patients have access to this medicine here in the Virgin Islands."

Decriminalization and industrial hemp legislation

Nelson said he also plans to offer an additional measure that would 
decriminalize growing a small amount of marijuana for personal use.

On Sept. 25, senators of the 30th Legislature unanimously supported 
Nelson's bill to decriminalize marijuana by making possession of one 
ounce or less a civil offense punishable by a fine, rather than a criminal act.

However, Gov. John deJongh Jr. vetoed the measure the following 
month, saying it was "well-intentioned and consistent with a trend" 
in the United States, but inconsistent in its application of the law.

On Dec. 19, the 30th Legislature overrode his veto, making the measure law.

Now, Nelson said he plans to pursue a provision that would 
decriminalize growing a limited number of marijuana plants for 
personal use, making it a civil offense rather than a criminal one.

The V.I. Legislature is also slated to take another look at a bill 
dealing with industrial hemp soon.

Nelson introduced industrial hemp legislation in the 30th Legislature 
that was heard in committee and then held.

Hemp is a type of cannabis with a very low content of THC, the 
psycho-active component of marijuana. Hemp can be used for its strong 
fibers in a variety of applications.

The industrial hemp legislation is being reintroduced in the 31st 
Legislature. Nelson said it is scheduled to be discussed in committee in June.

There is a "reviewer's note" at the end of the industrial hemp bill 
from the Legislature's legal counsel, pointing out that because some 
provisions of the bill are in conflict with the federal Controlled 
Substances Act, it could not be approved for legal sufficiency.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom