BILL TO ESTABLISH LOCAL FOOD FARM COUNCIL ADVANCES, THE OFFICE OF CANNABIS REGULATIONS, THE VIRGIN ISLANDS DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM, AND THE PORT AUTHORITY SHARES UPDATES

Published: Mar 8, 2023

St. Thomas- Members of the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Committee members voted in favor of Bill No. 35-0049 An act amending Title 7, Chapter 1 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding Subchapter VIII, establishing a Local Food and Farm Council in accordance with Mandate 5 of the Virgin Islands Agriculture Plan. The approved item will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

The measure seeks to create a Local Food and Farm Council established within the University of the Virgin Islands for budgetary purposes only. The Local Food and Farm Council is composed of 11 members, with each nongovernmental member serving a three-year term. A member may serve until the member’s successor is appointed and qualified. The Governor may remove any member in accordance with the bill. Senator James indicated that a stronger interisland connection is needed. The St. Thomas-St. John District, the St. Croix District, and the British Virgin Islands should collaborate in food production and transportation. Furthermore, Senator James stated that we should work towards a five percent reduction of imported food in the Territory within the next five years. The bill was proposed by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory and Senator Javan E. James, Sr.

Separately, officials from the Office of Cannabis Regulations (OCR), the Virgin Islands Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) updated lawmakers on the status of operations.

Hannah V. Carty, M.A., Executive Director, Office of Cannabis Regulations (OCR), shared an update on the implementation of Act 8680, personnel duties, and licensing procedures for the cannabis industry. Presently, to reserve funding for the rollout, OCR is operating with a bare-bones staff that is multitasking on assignments. In a written testimony submitted by Catherine Kean, Chair of the Cannabis Advisory Board, to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands, Kean expressed budgetary challenges due to growing responsibilities, despite OCR’s appropriation of $1,000,000 to operate for the next two years. Richard Evangelista, Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, mentioned that DLCA assists OCR by providing administrative support, office space, and funding for human resources. To further implement Act 8680, enacted as the Cannabis Use Act (CUA) of 2023, Carty mentioned that OCR is working diligently to be up to par with finalizing procurement with the Department of Property and Procurement and the Bureau of Information Technology for the Medicinal Cannabis Patient Registry, rules, and regulations, and vetting various educational programs to include the Responsible Vendor Training Program.

Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner of the USVI Department of Tourism, noted that tourists continue to visit both districts in the Virgin Islands due to the increase in major airline flights from the United States. However, the arrival of regional airlines was reduced because of a decrease in scheduled flights. Senator Franklin Johnson inquired about the number of hotel rooms available on St. Croix. In response, Boschulte mentioned that there are 2200 hotel rooms available in St. Croix.  Although, the hotels are down in occupancy the overall tourism economy. Boschulte said that hotels must adapt to the lodging competition rates out there. Regarding the upcoming St. Thomas Carnival, scheduled to commence on April 8th, Boschulte mentioned that the theme of this 71st annual event is Illuminating Our Culture for the World to See, St. Thomas Carnival 2023, reflecting the pride and joy of our people’s heritage and carnival celebrations. DOT is wrapping up preparations for this festive event.

Carlton Dowe, Executive Director, shared an update on the Virgin Islands Port Authority. Presently, VIPA has commenced the major renovations and improvements to capital projects at the ports. On St. Thomas, the construction of the Cyril King Airport Parking and Transportation Center commenced with plans to have 550 parking spaces, as well as a place for rental cars and taxis. The project cost $29.1 million. The deadline for completion is 2024. On St. John, Dowe explained that renovations had begun at the Loredon L. Boynes Senior Dock. This is inclusive of adding bathrooms, resurfacing the pier, and building an electrical room. On St. Croix, at the Wilfred “Bomba” Allick Port and Transshipment Center Cargo Terminal, the 42,000-square-foot cargo terminal was completed.

The following senators attended the meeting: Javan E. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Samuel Carriόn, Marise C. James, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Diane T. Capehart, Ray Fonseca, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis-Heyliger, Franklin Johnson, and Dwayne M. DeGraff.

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