All projections point to medical marijuana in the US Virgin Islands having a limited amount of resident patients. A maximum of 3200 patients could not sustain a medical cannabis industry. Therefore, it is important that regulations allow medical tourists an easy pathway to get their prescribed medicine.
The Virgin Islands Medical Cannabis Patient Care Act (MCPCA) goes to great lengths to ease wait times facing residents applying as medical card holders. It allows any patient to purchase medical cannabis once the application has been submitted, and before being approved. An application receipt serves as a temporary medical card to use at a dispensary.
This aspect of MCPCA is extremely convenient for residents of the Virgin Islands. In contrast, far less emphasis has been placed on the convenience to tourist card holders. In fact, there are very few details about tourism card registration included in the bill at all. The MCPCA does allow reciprocity, meaning medical cards from other legal medical cannabis states and countries are acceptable. However, tourists will have to apply and pay a fee to legally purchase cannabis from a dispensary. Beyond this information, the process is unknown.
So how will this system work, or more importantly, how can we prevent it from failing?
How to Make Cannabis Tourism Fail.
Anyone living in the Virgin Islands has a story about dealing with the government or it’s “semi-autonomous” agencies. The Motor Vehicles (BMV), Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA), WAPA, the list goes on. They are rarely a pleasant experience.
The Office of Cannabis Regulations (OCR) will register new patients. Now, a resident waiting an hour for a processed application would be business as usual. However for a tourist, a couple hours dealing with Virgin Islands bureaucracy, while immersive, is probably not what they envisioned when booking a trip to the USVI. Imagine the OCR’s TripAdvisor reviews…
How many cruise-ship passengers would disembark, jump in a cab, head to the local OCR office, apply for an application, wait, pay, jump back in a cab to the local dispensary, and then go on with their day? Not to mention that they won’t be able to bring their purchase back with them on the ship.
ZERO. Two million plus visitors a year on cruise-ships, zero tax revenue. ANY in-person application process for cruise-ship tourists is a non-starter.
The obvious path for medical tourism should have been to allow a dispensary to accept a legal medical cannabis card, no matter the jurisdiction. A non-resident cannabis tax could make up for the loss of application fees.
Without an amendment changing the rules for medical tourism, we have to deal with the law we have.
How to Make Cannabis Tourism Work.
Online registration is the ONLY OPTION for medical tourists.
An easy, accessible online portal, with immediate registration is the only option making medical cannabis tourism successful.
These are two scenarios where online registration makes sense.
The first tourist books their trip on a cruise-ship. With the itinerary in hand they know when they will be in the VI. They go to the OCR website, fill out the application, date of arrival/departure, upload a copy of their existing medical card, pay, and print. Everything is done before they reach port. Free to buy medical cannabis once in the territory.
The second tourist may not be the planning type. They don’t fill out their application before getting to the Virgin Islands. So they reach port and head straight to a dispensary. There, the dispensary staff would be able to assist the patient with filling out the application on the OCR website. With immediate approval, they would be able to purchase cannabis on the spot.
But what about fraud? In our first tourist’s example, the OCR would have plenty of time to review the patient’s application. In the second example, the dispensary would be liable for verifying the patient’s paperwork. Just as any bartender or casino worker would need to verify an out of state identification card.
A phone app would speed up this process even further, but let’s not complicate the issue. Any form of applying online is better than in-person processing.
There is no excuse for the Virgin Islands not to come up with a secure, simple, straight-forward approach to tourist medical cannabis cards.
No amendments to the law would be needed. They would all be taken care of directly through the regulatory process.
We already allow purchase of cannabis to residents who apply and pay. Automatic short-term approval is the law. Therefore the same approval should exist for tourists.
A difficult path for non-resident card holders to obtain medicine may prove to be detrimental to the territories cannabis industry. With a limited amount of resident card medical patients, overproduction of medical marijuana is all but guaranteed. Cannabis prices will fall, leading to businesses to fail and the likelihood of excess ending up in the black market. Therefore the only option left would be full legalization of recreational marijuana in the US Virgin Islands.