A bill that sets the salaries of future officials of the CNMI Cannabis Commission has hurdled the House of Representatives on a vote of 17-1, with the lone opposition coming from Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan).
She pointed out that, as outlined in House Bill 21-13, CNMI Cannabis Commission members will be getting an annual salary of $60,000 each, the chairperson $65,000, and the managing director $75,000.
Sablan said that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ proposed budget for the commission is $600,000 for fiscal year 2020. “The commissioners’ salaries alone are more than half of that.”
She said that, in light of the CNMI’s current fiscal crisis, “it seems crystal clear to me” that the Commonwealth can’t afford to pay full-time salaries for the commissioners “when we will also hire a managing director and professional staff to do the work, draft the regulations, and make policy recommendations for their approval,” said Sablan.
House floor leader John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan), who introduced the bill, believes that well-compensated commission officials will encourage them to be thorough in their duty to come up with regulations that would put safeguards and other restrictions on the emerging industry.
The bill eventually passed the House. Tina Sablan was the lone House member that voted no as she wanted to change the compensation for each commission official. Tina Sablan introduced a floor amendment that removes the salaries of the commissioners ($60,000) and the chairperson ($65,000).
“I am primarily concerned about the section of this bill that would make the commission a full time, fully compensated commission. The provision said this will be a working commission…[but]…I’m concerned about the cost of creating another obligation to the government,” she said.
Tina Sablan added that she knows the commission has an important role. “But, as a policy and as a fiscal matter, it makes no sense to me to make the commissioner’s full-time, paid positions. I don’t see the commission as any more important or more time consuming than any other board or commission in the Commonwealth.”
“I don’t know how we can explain that to government employees facing austerity measures, first responders who haven’t received their pay or any taxpayer of the Commonwealth for that matter. How can we justify this additional expense at a time like this?”
J.P. Sablan, as the author of the legislation, explained that well-compensated commissioners would help them concentrate in promulgating the regulations that would safeguard the new industry in the Commonwealth. “This cannabis industry is very new to us, and …we need a working and well-compensated commission to work hard in promulgating these rules.”
“We’re dealing with something that is fairly new and has to be thoroughly regulated. …We need a commission that would work in helping this new industry grow. We’re going to regulate this thoroughly or it may flood the island’s black market.”
“That’s why we’re proposing that it be a compensated commission since we want this to work. They need to work and promulgate the rules and regulations to the best that could benefit the CNMI. We need a working commission that would promulgate the rules and regulations. We need to compensate these people.”
H.B. 21-13 is intended to amend the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act that was signed into law last year.