A bill legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana use for medicinal and other purposes in the CNMI passed the House of Representatives yesterday afternoon, adding to a list of revenue-generating bills pending in the 17th Legislature.
Rep. Stanley Torres' (Ind-Saipan) House Bill 17-45 passed on a 10-7 vote with one abstention from Rep. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan).
Two others-Reps. Ray Palacios (Cov-Saipan) and Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan)-were absent.
Torres' bill allows people at least 21 years old to “possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use.”
It also permits the regulation and taxation of the commercial production and sale of marijuana to people at least 21 years old.
The bill, however, prohibits possession of marijuana on school grounds and prohibits its use in the presence of minors.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), one of the seven who voted “no” on the bill, wished lawmakers had defeated the bill.
“At a time when the Commonwealth economy is on its knees, some lawmakers wish to have its people stoned at the same time. Unbelievable,” Dela Cruz told Saipan Tribune.
Besides Dela Cruz, the others who voted “no” on the bill were floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Rafael Demapan (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan).
The 10 who approved the marijuana legalization bill included Torres, Speaker Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), minority leader Diego Benavente (R-Saipan), Rep. Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), Rep. Trenton Conner (R-Saipan), Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan).
In a cost-benefit analysis, the House Committee on Natural Resources said the enactment of the bill into law “will possibly result in the loss of federal funds but at the same time the Commonwealth government will generate funds through taxation.”
Public Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez earlier said the CNMI Department of Public Health may lose over $10 million in federal grants should the marijuana legalization bill becomes law.
Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug and is illegal to use and possess.
Villagomez said if one of the goals of legalizing marijuana is to reap potential economic windfall with the commercialization of marijuana cultivation and use, then the committee should commission a study to look at similar places that have done it.
Santos, who was still the chair of the Natural Resources Committee when the bill was first introduced and reviewed, also voted “no” on the bill yesterday.
She said those who provided oral testimony during public hearings on Rota on the bill “overwhelmingly opposed” the measure, but those on Tinian “overwhelmingly supported” it.” On Saipan, she said, “it was 50-50.”
“The Public School System, DPH, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program under the Department of Public Safety opposed the bill for the fear of losing millions of federal funds. For this reason, coupled with Rota's opposition, dictates my decision to also oppose the bill, thus I voted no without any reservation,” Santos told Saipan Tribune.
The committee recommended the full membership of the House to decide on the bill, saying public sentiment during public hearings on Saipan, Tinian and Rota have left the committee in an indeterminate state.
It said the recommendations made by concerned individuals who did not support the original bill have been addressed in House Substitute 1.
“Concerns from the Department of Public Safety, the Public School System, and the Department of Public Health have persuaded the committee not to act on [the measure] but to recommend that the full membership of the House decide upon this highly divisive bill,” the committee said.
Torres' Legalization, Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Act of 2010 is the first legislation of its kind to be passed in the CNMI.
Torres said his bill will legalize marijuana possession and use for medicinal purposes, which is now being done in some states and foreign countries.
He also said by removing the legal restrictions on marijuana, the quantity and supply of marijuana would diminish the crime and violence associated with attempts to obtain it or protect it by use of force and violence.