Cannabis legalization: Are we ready?


States that have set up regulated markets for marijuana use for responsible adult consumers have seen significant benefits to public health, safety, and quality of life for all residents. These benefits include increased revenues; creation of new businesses and ancillary companies; employment, training, and education; products and services; increase value in real estate, tax collection; tourism and spending; agriculture and industrial products; arrests and incarceration savings; reduction in teen access and usage; reduction in opioid addiction and abuse; access to a safer and affordable alternative for treatment to medical conditions and addiction; and respect for civil liberty, providing legal option of choice.

The proposed CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 prohibits:
• Public consumption; consuming in motor vehicles (impaired driving); consuming marijuana in the presence of minors under 18; selling/distributing to persons under 21; import/export of marijuana; contract worker personnel for licensed establishments; entrance of licensing prospects without proof of continued CNMI residency for the past 10 years prior to the Act’s passage with a 10-year moratorium period.

It allows:
• Establishment of a cannabis commission to promulgate rules and regulations.

Homegrown marijuana registry system and homegrown marijuana registry cards to identify legal home growers for personal use (non-commercial): six mature and 24 immature plants limit per household.

• A favorable medical marijuana system for all medical patients-qualified CNMI residents and nonresidents of all ages.

• Regulated and licensed marijuana establishments: Producer (micro/commercial), processor and retail/lounges, including government option to apply for licenses.

• Persons 21 and above to cultivate, possess, purchase and consume marijuana items for medical and other personal purposes.

• Personal possession and purchase limits: 1 ounce marijuana; 72 ounces liquid marijuana product (edibles); 16 ounces solid marijuana product (edibles); 5 grams extract.

• Medical patients allowed to cultivate over 6 flowering plant limit if doctor recommends the need to increase for treatment and no limits on immature plant count.

• On-site consumption at licensed marijuana lounges with exemptions applied for medical marijuana patients below age 21.

• Licensed micro-producers for small scale cultivation of no more than 25 flowering plants to sell to licensed establishments.

• CNMI government option to avail of licensing to enter industry.

• Mandate only U.S. citizen/CNMI permanent residents for licensed establishment workforce.

• Prospective applicants for licensing must show proof of continued CNMI residency within past 10 years from the Act’s passage, with provision to stay in effect for 10 years from passage (may be extended by Legislature if necessary).

• Mandate labeling requirements for marijuana items to be sold by licensees.

• Pre-employment and employment protection provision against discrimination.

• Child custody protection provision against discrimination.

Negative impacts of marijuana prohibition: Unregulated and non-taxed black market-increased marijuana prices and tainted or contaminated marijuana and access to minors; judicial and incarceration costs; drug testing and arrest records affect employment and deny student financial aid; introduction of “ice” (crystal methamphetamine) into the communities to substitute marijuana supply shortage; associated risks—arrest and fear—for medical patients to acquire cannabis for treatment.

There are opportunities, advantages, and benefits of cannabis that can be harnessed. The full legalization to explore and benefit from the potentials of cannabis is an option the CNMI needs to progress in health and welfare; agricultural and industrial; and on a socio-economic level.

The true essence of cannabis legalization has always been a civil liberty issue. Individuals should have the freedom of choice to cultivate and consume cannabis for whatever purposes, whether medical or nonmedical, and without the fear of arrest, punishment and harassment. It is time we consider the benefits of cannabis for a better CNMI.

The second Saipan public hearing is today, Oct. 23, 2017, at 6pm at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe. The public is highly encouraged to attend and participate by giving oral or written testimony on their position to the CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018. As the saying goes, “Speak or forever hold your peace.” Have a great Marianas and see you tonight.

Gerry Palacios Hemley
via email

Gerry Palacios Hemley

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