Both sides of aisle at pot public hearing

The House committee that held a public hearing on the marijuana legalization bill Tuesday evening at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe generated a fair amount of comments, according to the committee’s chairman.

The House Judicial and Governmental Operations Committee meeting, led by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), hosted the public hearing on Tuesday evening to obtain comments on Sen. Sixto Igisomar’s (R-Saipan) Senate Bill 20-62, which seeks to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes in the Commonwealth. The bill also proposes to create a commission that will oversee the industry’s operation.

“The members [of the committee] and I appreciate all the comments given and all who took the time out of their busy schedules to join [the public hearing],” said Blanco in a statement, adding that the hearing lasted about three hours.

Most of those whom Saipan Tribune talked to at the public hearing supported the bill’s passage.

“We need a Plan B. We cannot just depend on one industry [tourism],” said Carol Hosono. “[The bill] produces a lot of industrial opportunities for all our people.”

Hosono explained that her father, a former Vietnam veteran, used to use hemp oil to combat his cancer when he was still in Washington.

“But then, he wanted to come home. At Stage IV cancer, he was on hemp oil. As soon as he came [back to the CNMI], he deteriorated and died within 10 months,” she said.

Another attendee of the public hearing, who asked to be referred to only as Mr. Castro, shared a similar sentiment on the economic potential of the bill.

Castro recounted that, in his recent trip to the U.S. mainland, he found the cannabis dispensaries to be similar to that of a bank.

“…They get your name [and you pay] with cash only. Everything is labeled like alcohol—[those] only 21 years or older can purchase,” he said. “It is labeled properly and it is taxed properly. If it goes in that route, then the Legislature should really look into this and fine-tune [the bill],” he added.

Gary Liddle was having none of it, however, saying cannabis use has lasting effects on a person’s judgment.

“Our lives are made up of judgment calls, decisions,” he said, adding that impaired judgment made under the influence or effects of cannabis usage is something he does not wish for.

Liddle opposed S.B. 20-62 as it is currently written.

“I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana in the [way] that they’ve looked at it here. I am definitely not in favor of it recreationally and medically. It needs to be qualified by a physician,” he added.

Liddle said he understands the issue of pain since he suffers from the long-term effects of polio. He added that he has a daughter who is mentally disabled, so he understands that side as well.

Cannabis is reported to be able to relieve pain and make individuals with certain mental disabilities relax. “I am reticent in just opening the floodgates and allowing even in the community of people with medical needs to simply look at that as a solution to their problem, just as I would refrain them from looking at opiates as a solution to their problem either. …If [a] doctor could add…to the picture, then I think that is a valuable piece of information.”

Even though the committee has already voted on the bill, a public hearing is still always good, said House Speaker Rafael Demapan (R-Saipan)

“I spoke with the chairman to make sure that we get as much information from the public through a public hearing,” he said.

The bill has already been passed by the CNMI Senate.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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