Lawrence Duponcheel is optimistic that all those who have been involved in pushing for the legalization of cannabis in the CNMI would become sensible partners in educating the community of its advantages.
Duponcheel, who has been nominated to be the Tinian representative on the CNMI Cannabis Commission, said that educating the community, especially the skeptics and those who express strong concerns, would be one of the commission’s priority.
“We will work to educate the general public of the positive experiences among states that have legalized [marijuana use] and by creating a high-quality program that is consistent with the guidelines laid out in Public Law 20-66.”
P.L. 20-66, also known as the Taulamwar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, allows the recreational and medical use of marijuana in the CNMI. It was signed into law by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last September.
Duponcheel said that through the process of developing strong rules and regulations for the program, “we should be able convince those who are still concerned about negative consequences of legalization that P.L. 20-66 is not a free-for-all but…a truly modern and strict approach to re-adapting our communities to how we deal with cannabis within our society, which has been around since at least the 1960s, here in the CNMI.”
He added that severe penalties on illegal cannabis use, like distribution to a minor, are already in place after P.L. 20-66 became a law. “Everyone should remember that we are moving away from a system of no regulations and governance and toward a system of regulating, controlling, and taxing cannabis.”
Duponcheel is a co-founder of Sensible CNMI, one of the non-governmental groups that worked on decriminalizing cannabis use in the Commonwealth.
He was nominated by Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas to be the island’s representative on the CNMI Cannabis Commission, while Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has named Matthew Deleon Guerrero and Nadine Deleon Guerrero for Saipan, and Valentino Taisacan Jr. was nominated by Northern Islands Mayor Vicente C. Santos Jr.
All are awaiting confirmation by their respective legislative delegations. Thomas Songsong of Rota is the first official commission member after being confirmed last week by the Rota legislative delegation.
Once confirmed, commission members would have 180 days to formulate the rules and regulations to support what’s stated in P.L. 20-66.
Marijuana use remains illegal as the commission must first come up with the rules for the commercial, personal, and recreational use of cannabis in 180 days.
“I’m certain that the commission, all of the government agencies, and local working groups involved, will develop a system for allowing for public reviews, commenting, and the continuous evaluation of the program, using social media and by other means,” said Duponcheel.
“The evidence in support of regulating, controlling, and taxing cannabis is now widely available and consistently positive, in terms of contributing to net benefits to the societies that have chosen to legalize cannabis.”
Many U.S. states have legalized marijuana use, either for medical or recreational use or both, like Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, and Alaska. Twenty-two other states have legalized medical marijuana.
Some groups, however, have expressed concern on the impact of the cannabis legalization law on the CNMI’s image as a family-friendly tourist destination. Marianas Visitors Authority board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce said they are waiting for the promulgation of the rules by the cannabis commission.