Given the budget, PSS and the new Drug Court are front and center in today’s news and talk over the Coconut Wire over money issues I thought it would be only fitting and proper to remind readers that I told you so about the legalization of marijuana. The CNMI has literally been facing a budget crisis for over a decade even though we have passed budgets. When the President went public on legalization and criminal justice reform over two years ago I was also inspired to go public to support legalization and I told readers then that if our leaders truly wanted to end this continuing cycle of budget crisis that we should legalize marijuana, which is a billion dollar industry and growing by leaps and bounds almost daily.
Well, here we are again arguing over a limited supply of funding that is not enough to do what needs to be done and the question is why isn’t there anything on the table or the drawing board to bring about an end to our suffering economically. We all know the casino is not and will not be the total solution and yet it seems we are playing politics with the one thing that is on the horizon that has the potential to be the final solution in concert with the casino—legalization. Not only are we arguing over the budget, PSS and the criminal justice system are being forced to borrow more money that our budget and revenues are not prepared to pay back and we are already in debt up to our necks in the hundreds of millions! We continue to put our debts off on our children’s future with our inability to pay for our needs today instead of doing the work to generate new revenues like every citizen and especially parents who are forced to find a way to earn more money. We the people who are for legalization are not asking our government to do any more than we have to do ourselves—but the problem is the lack of political willpower!
I put my heart into trying to help the people of the CNMI over the past two decades. More recently I even stayed out of the newspapers for the most part in an attempt to work behind the scenes trying to convince our leaders to not delay and to act expeditiously on putting legalization on the ballot this year like 23 other states have done. But it seems the powers-that-be have decided to play with me and voters by making legalization a political football game for re-election with no score for the people. The issue is now going in circles like a dog chasing its tail instead of doing the work to get legislation on the ballot for the people to decide upon. All I can say without pointing a finger is that conducting Senate hearings during election season on a marijuana bill that won’t get to the people for another two years is a bunch of “you know what” and if you don’t know what it is you need to ask someone who does know! But you can count on me that I won’t give up progress and I now have two more years to at least make sure we get legalization RIGHT! The average citizen doesn’t know the present bill has ignored critical research on the controls and enforcement.
I just feel sorry for our education system, our criminal justice system and the people in general who are literally being ignored for election season politics. But it wouldn’t be this way if PSS, the judicial system, and community leaders would speak up and do more to compel our leaders to act on legalization. The leaders of the Judicial Branch truly needs to speak out on this issue as they have to know our president and U.S. Attorney General are pleading with states to reform criminal justice systems. Reforms designed to decrease prison populations and to allow for states to legalize marijuana and stop locking up people, especially youth, for marijuana use. Someone in the criminal justice system really needs to fight for what is right and just publicly given the truths we have learned about marijuana. I refuse to believe that our judges don’t care about the president’s plea to reform the justice system. I refuse to believe the Drug Court wants to deal with frivolous marijuana crimes that are outdated in America. I refuse to believe that our judges don’t care that illegal marijuana is now a major medium of exchange for “ice” instead of cash. I refuse to believe that our judges don’t care that they are putting a financial burden on our children by borrowing money that could come from the sale of marijuana? I refuse to believe that our judges want to spend time on marijuana crimes when “ice” crime is taking over. I refuse to believe that law enforcement wants to be bothered and hampered with frivolous marijuana crimes when they need to be chasing “ice” and the real criminals! I refuse to believe that some of the smartest people in our government are just going to sit back and say nothing to help the people or their branch of government. The people really need for someone in the criminal justice branch to speak up as your voice will weigh much more heavily on our leaders—please!
PSS also needs someone to speak up about the need to legalize marijuana. Marijuana is no longer a taboo issue like homosexuality once was and it wasn’t until homosexuality was completely out of the closet that we the people started to learn how to live with and deal with homosexuality. We must get marijuana out of the closet so we can educate our children and teach them how they should deal with marijuana as kids are not stupid and telling them the lie that marijuana is dangerous won’t work anymore—they know better. PSS is technically the “third” parent of our children as some children even spend more time with their teacher than they do their parents. I know from experience as I had a student to ask me how she should tell her parents she was pregnant because she didn’t know how or what to do. PSS must address the parenting responsibilities of education on marijuana use that can only be addressed properly once it is legalized.
On a personal note: I genuinely tried to help PSS by authoring a textbook and other educational materials and as a board member but I was fought against by a previous board member who thought I could not contribute or write local educational materials because “I was not local”—so sad. Yet our children are still not being educated from a local perspective just following the perspective of U.S. mainland-based textbooks that don’t even mention the CNMI and we wonder why the culture is dying. I also tried to help the board with making sure we never had a problem with teachers nor a teacher shortage like PSS has continued to experience and now the teacher population has reach a critically low level. Teachers need to be protected in their job if PSS truly wants to retain teachers. PSS should have established the “feeder institutions” at various colleges and universities as I suggested because it would all but guarantee a constant and limitless supply of teachers.
Finally, PSS needs to become the leader in transforming the local workforce to replace the alien workers by shifting to a vocational and academic curriculum as an estimated 70 to 80 percent of our graduates don’t have a real plan for college. I actually offered the ideal research-based and proven public service program that would cover all the professions and skills in addition to decreasing the teacher demand but it was also shot down. I have always said that time was on my side and just maybe now the board is willing to listen given I am being proven right and that I am also the only other person other than Dr. Sablan who has been certified by the Board of Education as being qualified to be the Commissioner of Education. PSS needs new revenues and supporting legalization will transform PSS like the Colorado school system that is now literally over funded thanks to legalization and their students did not go crazy smoking pot. Credentials are great but a people person with vision who is a fighter and culturally oriented is what PSS truly needs as a leader, not a Phd from the mainland with a lot of credentials but doesn’t know the first thing about the culture, the people, our politics and most importantly our children. I am hoping and praying for the sake of our children that the next commissioner will be a fighter for PSS and out spoken in supporting legalization. We must free ourselves through legalization to progress as humans who can openly educate ourselves and our children about marijuana.
Ambrose M. Bennett