Cannabis now legal, leaves police in a quandary

Cannabis now legal, leaves police in a quandary

As Virgin Islanders wait for the government to implement the new recreational cannabis law, court documents filed in recent cannabis arrests have shed light on how VI Police are enforcing possession of a drug that is now technically legal, but still not legally available for purchase.

On Friday, officers conducting traffic enforcement in the area of Beacon Point on St. Thomas stopped Randall Donovan and ordered him to roll down the windows of his vehicle, according to a probable cause fact sheet filed by V.I. Police.

Officers said they smelled marijuana and Donovan admitted to having the drug, and police said they saw a pre-rolled marijuana cigarette on the floor of the vehicle.

“Mr. Donovan was asked if the pre-rolled marijuana was purchased from a local cannabis dispensary and if he has a receipt or proof of purchase for the item,” according to the fact sheet.

Given the fact that there are no local cannabis dispensaries that would provide such a receipt, it was essentially a trick question.

But the inquiry signals that police are preparing for the day when cannabis will eventually be legally available for purchase — which likely won’t happen for several years.

Simple possession of cannabis is now legal for adults age 21 and over, after Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. signed the new recreational cannabis law in January.

But most of the law’s provisions won’t go into effect until the Cannabis Advisory Board drafts rules and regulations governing regulation and enforcement of recreational cannabis use.

The board was tasked with creating rules for medical cannabis after Bryan signed that law in 2019, but failed to do so, and cancer patients, military veterans, and others who would qualify for medical cannabis use continue to wait for legal access to the drug.

The board has not passed regulations governing cannabis cultivation and dispensaries, and farmers and business owners continue to wait for the Office of Cannabis Regulation to start accepting license applications.

The Cannabis Advisory Board was scheduled to meet on Feb. 22 but the meeting was postponed at the last minute, and a new date has not been announced. The board last met on Sept. 7.

Meanwhile, V.I. Police officers are continuing to use the scent of cannabis, or “marijuana,” as it’s referred to by law enforcement, as probable cause of a crime in progress, which allows officers to conduct vehicle searches during traffic stops.

In Donovan’s case, police said that when he answered “No” to the question about whether he bought the joint at a dispensary, “Mr. Donovan was advised about the Marijuana laws of the United States Virgin Islands and that a search will be conducted of the vehicle for illegal distribution of Marijuana due to the circumstances,” according to the fact sheet.

During the search, police found a pistol in the vehicle, and charged Donovan with possession of an unlicensed firearm and possession of ammunition.

Police did not charge Donovan with any marijuana-related crimes.

Another man, Te’Quori Lans, was arrested on St. Thomas Saturday after police conducted a traffic stop for driving without license plates and with illegal window tint. Officers smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle, and Lans struggled with police as they removed him from the car, according to the fact sheet.

Police searched the vehicle and found an unlicensed weapon and two containers of marijuana, and officers charged Lans with illegal gun possession but did not file charges related to the drug, according to the fact sheet.

Even after dispensaries are allowed to open, distributors will still face legal consequences if caught selling cannabis without a license, and police are currently pursuing cases involving marijuana sales.

E’Jaiey Grant was arrested on St. Thomas Saturday and charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, after police said they saw him making drug transactions in the area of Vitraco Mall, according to a fact sheet.

As Grant left the area in a vehicle, police conducted a traffic stop and found two bags containing a total of 18 ounces of marijuana, a little over a pound, according to the fact sheet.

While searching the vehicle, “several shots were heard being fired from the area of Oswald Harris Court” and police escorted Grant to a police vehicle and transported him to the station, according to the fact sheet.

In court Monday, Territorial Public Defender Julie Todman argued that police “found marijuana, but not in any shape or form or fashion for distribution,” and such cases could lead down a “slippery slope” for enforcement.

Assistant V.I. Attorney General Madeleine James said police provided sufficient evidence that the drug was intended for sale, and Magistrate Judge Paula Norkaitis found probable cause for the charge.

“I remind the court that simple possession of marijuana, or just the possession of marijuana, as it stands in the Virgin Islands, is legal. Now, VIPD has manufactured a crime against Mr. E’Jaiey Grant,” Todman said.

Grant has a previous criminal history, including a pending case stemming from another arrest in January, after which he was released after posting 10% cash of a $7,500 bail.

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