Editor’s Note: The following letter is being published in two parts due to its length.
First of a two-part letter
In 2015, the medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 19-06, was introduced due to the large and ever increasing cases of debilitating medical conditions throughout the CNMI.
Upon further review, it was determined that it was similar to Guam’s medical marijuana law and that there were severe flaws in its language that would have negative impacts to its implementation, which led to revisions that were more effective in carrying out its intent for the patients.
Overwhelming support was received from testimonies at public hearings on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. During these hearings, majority of people—senior citizens, patients, doctors, lawyers, military veterans, caregivers, and average citizens—not only supported a medical marijuana program, but strongly offered suggestions to address non-medical uses as well, including hemp.
With compassionate support taken into account and evidences showing a cumbersome task in implementing a medical-only marijuana program for patients, a new approach was considered. Hence, in July 2016, Senate Bill 19-106 was introduced, known as the Commonwealth Marijuana Regulation Act of 2017.
The CMRA was a personal use bill that allowed accessible cannabis, whether homegrown or as a taxed commodity to be used for any purpose. Primarily for medical patients, it also included non-medical, agricultural and industrial uses.
A month later, a supertyphoon placed the CNMI in disarray and the bill got shelved, to be reconsidered in the future.
Now, after countless revisions and drafts by assessing effective models from recreational and medical marijuana states and foreign countries, we have Senate Bill 20-62, the CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, that was introduced this August with the best intentions catered to the CNMI and its people.
In drafting the CNMI Cannabis Act, considerations were made from emerging policy changes and shifting trends in the U.S. and throughout the world while placing strong attention from a grower to consumer perspective in the current cannabis culture of the CNMI. We did our best to cater to the legal cannabis industry as much as possible and to allow for consumer access and protections at the same time.
New definitions and sections were added. Provisions were made to promote U.S. citizen and CNMI permanent resident employment while eliminating the dependence on contract worker personnel. A continued residency status for a license applicant was also placed to promote and encourage entrepreneurship for the first 10 years of the Act’s passage, while limiting the entrance of foreign commercial prospects.
A micro-producer licensee is allowed to cultivate up to 25 mature plants that will be sold to other licensees. The micro-producer may use the residency status mandate to their advantage in expanding their business from a small-scale operation to a commercial level within the first 10 years.
There are also employment and child custody protection sections, including a mandate to labeling requirements for marijuana items sold by licensees. The bill allows a six-mature-plant limit for home cultivation and a homegrown marijuana registry system to identify legal home growers.
The CNMI government also has the option to avail of licensing to enter the cannabis industry in order to generate direct revenues. This concept is being done in the U.S. The Cannabis Corner, located in North Bonneville, WA, is America’s first and only municipally-owned canna-business that was established to help the struggling town. However, what is happening in the U.S. is not a monopoly, as we know that government or privately owned monopolies have limitations and lack vision for growth. In fact, and fortunately, the CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 does not favor monopolies, but encourages free enterprise among the CNMI people to promote competition of prices, products and services as well as entrepreneurship, and to nurture research and development through innovation. This is where direct and indirect advantages relating to cannabis will occur synergistically.
Provisions were made to cater to any medical condition for any age in which cannabis may be used as treatment as per medical certification, whether from the CNMI, the U.S., or foreign country.
Some medical marijuana states have a conditions-only listing that limits certain conditions to be treated, while some states and countries lack medical marijuana laws in general. The advantages of medical tourism, especially with cannabis, are promising in fostering those who seek treatment. Dispensary customers are also challenged to find welcoming venues to enjoy or treat themselves, especially tourists, so careful considerations were made to cater to the consumers by allowing marijuana lounges for onsite consumption of all marijuana items—marijuana, marijuana products, and marijuana extracts—without the inconvenience.
In favor of balance, alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited from being served, sold and consumed on marijuana lounge premises or any cannabis related social event.
To be continued on Monday
Gerry “Banzai” Palacios Hemley
Sensible CNMI/cannabis advocate