Pot bill supporters tout benefits


Supporters of a bill to legalize marijuana use in the CNMI said that decriminalizing the weed would be beneficial for the Commonwealth since a new industry would come out once the prohibition is lifted.

Dr. John Doyle, an internal medicine physician at the Commonwealth Health Center and private clinic Marianas Medical Center; community member Matthew Borja; and Gerry Hemley, of pro-marijuana group Sensible CNMI, each outlined the benefits for the CNMI if Senate Bill 20-62, which would allow medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, is enacted.

Jim Rayphand gave comments on a personal capacity and not as the director of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc.

Speaking before the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations committee on Tuesday, Helmey said that S.B. 20-62 has the potential to create a new industry in the CNMI.

“If you legalize it, it would benefit the CNMI economically through the taxes that would come from it. Doing this will do many things, economically, medically, and socially. It covers a lot, creating a new industry,” he said.

Doyle, meanwhile, said it would provide patients with access to a cheaper alternative to expensive medicines and can be grown in one’s backyard.

“We actually have Dronabinol, a pharmaceutical-grade medicine that is pure [tetrahydrocannabinol] or the extract from the [cannabis] plant. That medicine is available for us and is no different in form and function from the actual marijuana plant. We tried it but, unless you have $3,000 a month to pay, you can’t take the medicine.”

It makes no sense, therefore, that marijuana, a medicinal plant, can get you into trouble, he said. “Pharmaceutical companies can charge you $3,000 a month to have access to a plant that you can grow in your own backyard but you could go to prison for 10 years.”

Doyle said that states and other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana have seen a significant drop in opioid deaths and methamphetamine use. “Every state that legalized marijuana—medicinal or recreational use—has seen a 30-percent across-the-board drop in opioid deaths. Meth users also dropped from 20 to 25 percent.”

Borja said cannabis could not be compared to a drug or alcohol. “It is more than that; it’s a medicine. If you were to sell anything that makes people better, it has to be organic, not synthetic.”

“I truly believe that this would be beneficial. It is sad to see that it’s taking us so long,” he added.

Rayphand said legalizing marijuana use would have a big impact on the CNMI. “See the difference of paying $3,000 to something that you could grow in your own backyard.”

The Senate, in their last session, passed S.B. 20-62—introduced by Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan). House Speaker Rafael Demapan (R-Saipan), in their last session on Tinian on May 22, told JGO chair Rep. Ivan Blanco (R-Saipan) to prioritize the bill.

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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