Cruz: Public hearing on cannabis measure attracts high attendance

Members of the Senate committee that attended the public hearing on the proposed cannabis legalization and regulation bill last Monday were surprised at the public support shown for the bill, with one believing it to be the “most attended public hearing” in his tenure at the Senate.

It was the second public hearing on Sen. Sixto Igisomar’s (R-Saipan) Senate Bill 20-62 SD1 and was held at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center.

Sen. Francisco Cruz (R-Tinian), who attended the public hearing as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government, and Law, told Saipan Tribune that 50 members of the public signed up for the public hearing while over 20 testified.

“I was overwhelmed [with the number] of people [on Monday]. We rarely see so much participants,” said Cruz.

The public hearing for S.B. 20-62 on Monday was held to obtain public comments on the regulation and legalization of cannabis in the CNMI.

Members of the Senate JGL Committee—Sens. Justo Quitugua (R-Saipan), Teresita Santos (R-Rota), Cruz, and Igisomar—attended. Committee chair Sen. Steve Mesngon (R-Rota) was unable to attend.

The bill’s author, Igisomar, believes the bill looked “promising” and was also astonished at the overwhelming public support his bill has garnered.

“There were a lot more [members of the] public compared to the previous public hearing and the public hearing two years ago for SB 19-6. This is the largest with respect to any public hearings that the Senate has held that I’ve been on, at least,” said Igisomar.

Although many comments were submitted, Igisomar took note of a few who fear that legalizing marijuana would endanger the health of minors whose brains have yet to be fully developed and make the drug more accessible.

Igisomar pointed out, though, that one of his bill’s goals is to hinder minors from securing marijuana easily.

“If we actually go far [and this bill becomes law], we would continue to promote our duties as parents to teach our children to stay off any form of drugs,” he said.

One of two who opposed the passage of the bill last Monday was Kristo Rai Parish’s Rev. Fr. Ken Hezel.

Hezel argued that marijuana affects the development of the brain and can be harmful, especially since the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 21.

“This is why this [bill] is an adult policy. This [bill] is really a policy for adults aged 21 and up,” he said, citing comments of Dr. John Doyle who last Monday also supported the bill.

Santos, who was also at the public hearing last Monday, said that while majority of the public supported the bill, there were also many recommendations on SB 20-62.

One of that included “conducting public education” prior to allowing the electorates to vote on the bill during next year’s general election, among many other recommendations.

The Office of the Attorney General has already raised a concern that the bill does no conform to standard process on how a bill or initiative becomes law, which could possibly make it illegal. The Legislature, or Senate committee, has yet to comment on this.

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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