A bill that would legalize the use of hemp in the CNMI for industrial purposes has passed the Senate with amendments, and is moving back to the House of Representatives to be acted on.
Authored by Rep. Marco T. Peter (R-Saipan), the “CNMI Hemp Farming Industry Act of 2019” reflects the changes in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, or the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Schedule 1 drugs are those with no currently accepted medical use, and with a high potential for abuse like heroin, cannabis, ecstasy, and LSD.
Rep. Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), who chairs the Senate Committee on Cannabis and Gaming, said the bill removes hemp from the purview of the Commonwealth Cannabis Commission and moves it under the Division of Agriculture of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources.
The bill also aims to allow hemp producers to be eligible for federal funding by certain federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We needed to remove it from the Cannabis Commission and place it into the agricultural arm of the government so that we can avail of possible funds that were passed during the U.S. Congress’ 2018 Farm Bill that freed up some money for that industry,” Sablan said.
With the legalization of cannabis at the state level, keeping hemp under the regulatory authority of the Cannabis Commission could pose some challenges for the CNMI, in terms of availing some funds.
“Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance, so it’s still illegal federally,” the legislator said. “Therefore, if we place hemp under Cannabis [Commission], we cannot funnel any grants or any moneys through the Cannabis Commission because the legalization was taken at a state level, at a local government level, not on a federal level.”
Sablan further said that they wanted to be consistent and to ensure that the CNMI can avail of any possible funding that comes from the federal government, and any grants that could help the industry thrive in the CNMI.
“Hopefully, this could be something that could really stir the needed economic activity for the CNMI,” Sablan added. (Iva Maurin)