auditoriumWith marijuana legalization and decriminalization efforts sweeping the United States, most notably in Colorado and Washington, advocates here in the U.S. Virgin Islands are calling on our territory to take on similar reforms. At a recent gathering at the University of the Virgin Islands Great Hall, more than 200 advocates attended a forum and discussion on comprehensive marijuana reform.

Panel members, which included Sen. Terrence Nelson, business owners and well-known community leaders, spoke about the current state of marijuana prohibition both in the territory and across the U.S., including the rates of incarceration for individuals convicted of lower-level drug crimes like marijuana possession. They also discussed the possibility of legalizing hemp production, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of the drug and approving it for both recreational and medicinal use. In fact, Sen. Nelson himself has taken action in the U.S. Virgin Islands legislature, proposing several bills with the past few years addressing these issues.

The forum has come on the heels of a rapidly growing trend across the United States of marijuana legalization, starting with Colorado and Washington voters approving legalization in the November 2012 election. Since then, the city of Portland, Maine and a number of communities in Michigan have followed suit. Marijuana legalization measures will also be on the ballots in several states this November.

According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 58 percent of Americans are in favor of marijuana legalization, and one UCLA professor believes that recreational use of the drug will be legal nationwide within the next five years.

Opposing views

While the recent panel event contained a great deal of enthusiasm from advocates, what it didn’t include was the other side of the issue. Those opposed to legalization say that the conversation needs to address potential consequences, including violent crimes that occur when one individual owes another money for drugs. Some also question whether making marijuana legal would encourage more people, including youth, to use the drug recreationally, which could eventually lead to abuse.

Regardless, it appears that current trends point toward marijuana legalization in more U.S. states in the years to come. The question remains —will the U.S. Virgin Islands?

BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected law firm serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.