The Commissioner for Licensing and Consumer Affairs on Thursday saw his nomination to serve on a cannabis advisory board approved by the Senate Rules and Judiciary Commission. Commissioner Richard Evangelista used his testimony to share his priorities for advancing the legal use of medical marijuana in the Virgin Islands.
Approving Evangelist’s nomination to the board was one of four measures to consider at Thursday’s hearing. The votes were five in favor, one against and one abstention.
The Virgin Islands Cannabis Advisory Council was established in 2019 by Law no. 8167 to establish guidelines for business and trade for the use of medical marijuana. Standards Committee Chair Milton Potter said the ultimate goal is to legalize medical and recreational use.
According to the statutes, the board must have 11 members. There are currently five vacancies.
“We are currently in the process of decriminalizing marijuana. However, the consequences are based on the amount that an individual has on his person, which by law may be subject to the payment of a fine, “Potter said.
The licensing commissioner told lawmakers that some residents are contacting his office, asking for advice on how to fill the cannabis prescriptions they obtained off the island for diagnosed medical conditions. When they get home, he says they have to “hide behind a door” to get the marijuana and relief they need, and his doctors approve.
If the nomination is approved by the full Senate, Evangelista said he wants to help develop an education campaign for medical cannabis safety. It was also described as a short-term goal to work to ensure that the rules adopted in the territory are consistent with the laws of the states.
In March, board members released a draft rules and regulations during a virtual public meeting. In the long run, Evangelista said she would like to help make medical cannabis affordable.
There was also time during the hearing for the candidate to address the related concerns raised in the committee. Senator Novelle Francis said she wanted to see more scrutiny of cannabis edibles, citing recent reports from school campus students showing signs of intoxication.
Evangelista acknowledged that it would be appropriate for his agency, as well as the Departments of Education and Health, to study food regulation more closely.
At the end of the hearing, the candidate said lawmakers will be surprised at how many people stop by to talk to them or call their offices to express their gratitude once they can make legal cannabis purchases as medicine.