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. Lawmakers from the Office of Cannabis Regulations (OCR) and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDA) shared an update on the status of operations.
To date, OCR is operating with a limited budget in preparation for the program’s deployment. On September 7, 2023, OCR received an allotment based on Act 8680 and began processing the monies, according to Hannah Carty, M.A., Executive Director, Office of Cannabis Regulations. However, Catherine Kean, M.D., Chair, of the Cannabis Advisory Board, noted that the $1,000,000 allocated to OCR is not enough to sustain daily operations and expand the office. Furthermore, H. Nathalie Hodge, Commissioner Nominee for the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, indicated that the DLCA currently provides OCR administrative support to include offices, budget management, and human resources. Senator Donna Frett-Gregory inquired about the amount of funds utilized. Carty noted that OCR is using funds from a previous allotment and did not utilize the $1,000,000.
Moreover, the goal is to initially invest in the Request for Proposal for the Track and Trace or the seed to sale system, closely followed by a Request for Proposal for consultants to score the merit-based application process. Concurrently, OCR submitted a personnel requisition form to fill vacancies, which included enforcement personnel. Senator James urged OCR to provide documentation to the Senate that supports a realistic timeline for the rollout of the cannabis industry. To move forward, Carty mentioned that amendments are required for sections of Act 8680; specifically, the restricted area access, medical recommendations, and board member confirmation and quorum. Act 8680, in its current state, has ambiguous language that hinders the launch of retail programs for adult users or sacramental users. Senator James stated that there needs to be ongoing updates from OCR on social media, radio and television which will allow the public to follow the progress.
The Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture Commissioner Nominee, Louis Emanuel Petersen, Jr., testified. VIDA faces several obstacles, including the need to fill twenty essential vacancies, including maintenance engineers and heavy equipment operators, and the need to replace or repair heavy equipment in both districts. In addition, more funds are required to purchase a water truck. Although Act 8590 provided $160K to VIDA for a water truck, an additional $40K is required to cover the increased cost of $210K. There are thirty-eight expired lease agreements for farmers. The vast majority of lease applications filed to VIDA are incomplete. The remaining leases will not be extended due to a lack of compliance or production. Finally, the components of the St. Croix Abattoir, such as the rumping station, boiler, and chill room, are making solid progress.
The following senators attended the meeting: Javan E. James, Sr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Diane T. Capehart, Angel Bolques, Jr., Dwayne M. DeGraff, Marvin A. Blyden, Donna Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., and Franklin Johnson.
The Division of Public Affairs is committed to providing the community with accurate information on legislative proceedings and other events at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. ###