Senate pot bill left to rot at House

House to introduce new pot bill

A Senate bill legalizing and regulating the use of cannabis in the CNMI was swatted after it did not garner sufficient support from the majority bloc to push the bill through the Legislature.

Citing a violation in the CNMI Constitution that could not be reversed no matter the amendment, the House of Representatives yesterday unanimously voted to recommit Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar’s (R-Saipan) Senate Bill 20-62, SD1, HD3 to the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, led by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) to never see the light of day again.

Last Monday during a House session, the question raised on S.B. 20-62 was whether or not it was revenue-generating, which would have made it illegal to originate from the Senate since only the House, according to the CNMI Constitution, could come up with bills that generate revenue.

The JGO committee, led by Blanco, attempted to correct that by omitting each and every provision in the bill that generated revenue—including provisions that charged licensing fees for vendors and special taxations for cannabis cultivation.

However, Rep. Blas Jonathan “BJ” Attao (Ind-Saipan), questioned the legal counsel for the House yesterday in their continuation of the Monday session if the S.B. 20-62 coming out of the Senate was a revenue-generating bill.

The legal counsel confirmed that such was the case, making the bill a revenue-generating bill right from the get-go. The legal counsel further concluded that S.B. 20-62 ceased to be a revenue-generating bill only after the JGO amended it.

With the new perception on the constitutionality of the bill, the House ultimately decided to shelve S.B. 20-62 and introduce a House version of the cannabis bill.

Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) is expected to file the new bill.

During discussions, Deleon Guerrero also amended the bill to omit language allowing cannabis commissioners and the executive director to serve with a criminal record. Only traffic violations are exempted from the provision.

Blanco also amended the bill to omit a $5 fee for annual registration cards, which is also considered as revenue.

Rep. Edwin Propst (Ind-Saipan) in a conversation with Saipan Tribune noted that if S.B. 20-62 were to pass today, it would eventually come back to bite them because of its constitutionality. He further questioned on the floor who would be paying for the salaries of the cannabis commissioners and executive director since the bill would not be generating revenue.

Rep. Vinson Sablan (Ind-Saipan) further noted that passing the bill in haste would have left the cannabis market legal, but still unregulated since licensing fees would be free. Sablan added having cannabis unregulated was inconsistent with the intent of the bill, which was to regulate and legalize cannabis.

Rep. Donald Barcinas (R-Saipan) further noted several inconsistencies with the intent of the bill and its contents.

S.B. 20-62 explicitly states that it seeks to allow the “creation of jobs and the capturing of a new revenue stream that can be used to fund public safety programs, public school infrastructure and programs, supporting the retirement fund, and other government and social programs,” among many others.

Citing the findings and intent of the bill, Barcinas believes that it is inconsistent with the bill’s contents, which did not impose fees and collect taxes for government program funding.

Rep. Francisco Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) concurred with Barcinas, while vice speaker Janet Maratita (R-Saipan), Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan), Rep. Glenn Maratita (R-Rota), and several other representatives expressed their opposition to the bill both during the session and out of session.

All the representatives noted, however, that they were not opposing the bill for attempting to legalize and regulate cannabis, but rather opposed the bill for its unconstitutionality.

“I would support [cannabis] legalization legislation if it is constitutional and…provided that it is stringently regulated and that revenues from such would translate to funding opportunities for healthcare, public safety, and education,” Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) told Saipan Tribune.

House pot bill filed

Deleon Guerrero in an interview stated that the only way to have the legalization of cannabis comply with the CNMI Constitution was to reintroduce a House version of the bill.

“…Just the mere fact that it originated in the Senate in a form that included revenue generation was unconstitutional in itself,” he said. “There was no way around that.”

At around 4:15pm yesterday, Deleon Guerrero confirmed with Saipan Tribune that he successfully filed the House version of the bill.

According to Deleon Guerrero, the House pushed for the passage of the bill despite questions of its constitutionality due to pressure from the public to pass the bill. He added that seeing that there was a lot of “support from the community” and “pressure on the members to pass it.”

“We [have to pass legislation] within the confines of our constitutional authority, and there was no way—based on discussions held—of getting around that,” he said.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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