The CNMI Cannabis Commission needs to reach out to the U.S. Attorney General to address concerns over the legality of interisland transportation of marijuana.
Speaking at the Senate Committee on Cannabis and Gaming meeting yesterday, Senate floor leader Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (R-Saipan), advised commission executive director Nadine Deleon Guerrero, managing director Monique Sablan, and commissioner Matt Deleon Guerrero to seek advice federal guidance on the matter.
“Since this is a new industry…there’s a grave concern on enforcement and this is something that is expected. …Sit down with the U.S. Attorney General and get guidance in terms of the federal side, because getting on the aircraft between islands, that’s a federal crime to carry marijuana,” he said. It is also illegal to carry marijuana aboard vessels licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, he added.
Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, a designation given to drugs with a high potential for abuse, and cannot be safely prescribed. Its use, sale, or distribution is illegal under federal law.
During the meeting, former House speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ special adviser on the cannabis industry, said that local law enforcement agencies recognize that the transport is legal, and will not be stopped at the borders, nor prevented from being transported between the islands.
“We have a unique situation here. …If we have dry land, roads between our islands, I think this may not be an issue, but because we do have waters that surround our islands, [it is],” he said.
“Our issue here is there are also federal agencies that also have their own mandate to uphold federal law, whether it’s the Coast Guard, or the [Federal Aviation Administration]. We cannot legislate. The Commonwealth has no authority to affect a federal agency’s responsibility, so that’s kind of out of our hands,” he added.
The governor’s adviser also stated that the U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction to enforce federal law in navigable waters, even within what the CNMI calls territorial waters. “And so, in the event that they do come upon and in the event that they do find on a vessel [marijuana], they may confiscate it,” he said. “We have raised the issue with the Attorney General’s Office. …At this point, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. …But as far as our local governments, we’ve had consultations with them, and it is not an issue. It’s just our federal counterpart that may have issues with it.”
While the commission has already met with the CNMI Attorney General, Quitugua recommended that they consult with the U.S. Attorney General as well.