Medical marijuana continues to gain ground in unexpected parts of the world. Just last week, the U.S. Virgin Islands became the largest of Uncle Sam’s Caribbean properties to legalize cannabis for therapeutic purposes. It is the largest of the U.S. territories to make this move, joining territories like Guam and Puerto Rico.
Although a piece of legislation designed to legalize medical marijuana was passed over by former U.S. Virgin Islands governor Kenneth Mapp, incoming governor, Albert Bryan, was relatively quick in deciding it was the right way to go. On Tuesday, Bryan put his signature on the Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act, giving patients with a variety of qualified conditions access to cannabis medicine.
It is a comprehensive program that will serve everyone from the seriously ill to those dealing with chronic pain. Patients who fit the bill for the program will be allowed to possess up to four ounces of marijuana at a time, while non-residents would be restricted to only three ounces. Additional possession limits and other regulations still need to be hashed out before the program becomes fully functional. A draft of the rules is expected to come within the next few months.
Cannabis advocates are, of course, pleased with the progress that legislative forces have made on this issue.
“We applaud Gov. Bryan and the Virgin Islands Legislature for enacting this sensible and compassionate legislation,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “Medical marijuana is widely recognized as an effective treatment for a variety of debilitating conditions and symptoms. This new law offers the prospect of relief for countless patients, and it will do so for generations to come.”
Medical marijuana is now legal in some form or fashion in 32 states, the District of Columbia and a handful of U.S. territories. In fact, Idaho and American Samoa are the only U.S jurisdictions that are without a therapeutic cannabis program of any kind. Some of these legal areas, however, do not have workable plans. It’s a problem that advocates want resolved in 2019.
“There is no reason why patients in 18 states and American Samoa should continue to be deprived of this medical treatment option that is now accessible to so many of their fellow Americans,” O’ Keefe said.
As it stands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is the only U.S. territory that has legalized marijuana for recreational use. But more could follow in the future, as lawmakers recognize the potential economic benefits.