From prohibition to control

HB 20-178 to allow NMI to transition

An advocate for the legalization of marijuana use in the CNMI said that House Bill 20-178 would transition the CNMI from prohibition to the control of cannabis use in the Commonwealth, once Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signs the legislation into law.

The Senate, voting 6-2, passed H.B. 20-178 in their session last Thursday, Aug. 31, three weeks after it cleared the House of Representatives. The bill is now at the governor’s desk and his legal counsel is expected to review it before Torres enacts it.

Lawrence Duponcheel, co-founder of pro-cannabis group Sensible CNMI, told Saipan Tribune that local lawmakers “thoughtfully and methodically worked” to piece together legislation that would legalize and regulate marijuana use in the Commonwealth.

H.B. 20-178 is formally known as the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018.

“[H.B. 20-178] would allow the CNMI to transition from an ineffective and destructive policy of prohibition, to a system of controlling, regulating, and taxing marijuana (cannabis) and industrial hemp,” said Duponcheel, who added that the bill is modeled after Oregon’s Measure 91.

Oregon’s marijuana law recognizes the best management practices in controlling, regulating, and taxing marijuana and industrial hemp. Measure 91, the third initiative to legalize recreational use of cannabis in Oregon, was a ballot measure in the 2014 election with 56.11 percent voting yes and 43.89 percent opposing it.

H.B. 20-178 was crafted to adapt to local needs and conditions, with medical professionals, law enforcers, patients, growers, Sensible CNMI, and other individuals lending their input and expertise in the public hearings and committee meetings that were held before the bill was discussed in the Legislature.

U.S. pro-marijuana organizations like the Americans for Safe Access, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Marijuana Policy Project, and Americans for Safe Access endorsed H.B. 20-178. These groups are working to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.

H.B. 20-178 would allow safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic and medical purposes, while prohibiting and discouraging possession and sale to minors. It is projected to generate a new revenue stream that will provide funding for drug treatment and prevention programs, school programs, the NMI Retirement Fund, and the general fund.

“Regulating and taxing marijuana will complement and enhance our local tourism industry, create jobs, and provide adults with a safer alternative to more dangerous substances, such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and other illicit drugs,” said Duponcheel.

“Finally, we can move away from the criminalization and stigmatization of our citizens, saving taxpayer dollars, and allowing law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, thus reducing the negative impacts of enforcing misguided federal policies here in the CNMI.”

He added that the people of Pacific island communities are strong-minded and caring. “Our citizens and leadership are correct to have come together to develop and support H.B. 20-178, as a strong and progressive piece of legislation that is based on our core principles of respect, responsibility, and trust.”

In a statement last Thursday, soon after the CNMI Senate sent the bill to Torres, Gerry Hemley, co-founder of Sensible CNMI, said in a statement: “We commend the lawmakers for taking this important step forward, and we hope Gov. Torres will join them in supporting a more sensible marijuana policy for the Northern Marianas. This is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to establish itself as a trendsetter on this issue and set an example for the states and other U.S. territories. This legislation will replace the illegal marijuana market with a system of regulated, taxpaying businesses. It will not only bolster our economy, but also improve public health and make our community safer.”

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, also issued a statement: “This is a historic moment, as it is the first time a governing body in the U.S. has ever enacted legislation to both end marijuana prohibition and establish a system of regulation to replace it. Adults and medical cannabis patients will finally be able to access marijuana safely and legally, and products will be regulated and controlled to ensure they are safe for consumers. This legislation will allow for the establishment of new businesses that create jobs and generate new tax revenue that can support important programs and services.” 

Last Thursday, Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), along with Senate vice president Steve K. Mesngon (R-Rota), original author Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), and all three Tinian GOP lawmakers—Sens. Francisco M. Borja, Francisco Q. Cruz, and Jude U. Hofschneider—voted to pass the bill.

Sens. Justo S. Quitugua (R-Saipan) and Teresita A. Santos (R-Rota) abstained while Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) was absent.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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