The CNMI Senate has thumbed down a House bill that would have addressed some of the concerns raised by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres in the law that legalized the use of cannabis in the CNMI, preferring to let the incoming members of the House address the issue.
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) said there are provisions in House Bill 20-196 that are potentially unconstitutional and has statutory contradictions.
“There’s a provision in [H.B. 20-196] that affects regulation to make part of [the cannabis law, Public Law 20-66] go away. It doesn’t work like that; that’s unconstitutional. Regulation cannot trump statute and statute cannot trump Constitution. That’s very basic,” said Palacios.
“Secondly, the compensation package for the commission [members]. One is to pay them a salary, plus honorarium for board meetings. You can’t have both. So, we were going to try to make those amendments,” added Palacios.
Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) introduced H.B. 20-196. It seeks to amend certain sections of P.L. 20-66 that was signed into law by Torres in September last year.
Palacios said Tuesday that the Senate could have made the amendments but time is no longer on their side, “knowing full well that, in consulting with House members and the speaker, if we make amendments, that bill will not make it out of the House in time before they sine die.”
“They [House] are not going to be able to accept those amendments in time to pass it. So, it has to be taken back, fixed, and let the next Legislature address it. Next week, somebody could pick it up and make a go at it. We are leaving this legislation on the table.”
The 21st Legislature will be inaugurated on Jan. 14, Monday.
Senate floor leader Francisco M. Borja (R-Tinian) later withdrew his motion for the passage of H.B. 20-196.
Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (Ind-Saipan) opposes giving additional compensation to commission members and he believes the annual compensation of $65,000 per annum is enough. The cannabis law would also give an honorarium of $60 each per member for whole-day board meetings and $30 each for half-day meetings.
“Any bill that originates from the House and gets to the Senate, it is our due diligence to make sure that it is in order before we vote. If we put this out for a vote with some deficiencies, I guarantee that many of our people are not going to care about reading this bill,” said Quitugua.
“Because [people] rely on us to know what we’re doing here, we should give them a good initiative. It is our due diligence to look at this legislation, if we feel that it is not going to fulfill its intent to benefit the people.”