Senate tweaks pot law

Managing director qualifications, salary lowered

The Senate made several tweaks last Wednesday to Public Law 20-66, or the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, by passing a bill lowering the qualifications for the Commonwealth Cannabis Commission managing director and adjusting the commissioners’ annual salary.

With the Senate unanimously passing Rep. John Paul Sablan’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 21-13 HD1 in the form of a Senate substitute, the bill that establishes the function of the cannabis commission now heads to the House of Representatives for action.

Among the several amendments made by the Senate through the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee were clarifications on the compensation rates, attendance requirements, and applicability of employment requirements for the members of the commission as well as the managing director.

Notably, the managing director, which was previously required to have a bachelor’s degree from a U.S.-accredited educational institution or equivalent, along with four years of work experience in the cannabis, agricultural, or other related industries, is now only required to have four years of work experience.

This change, Sablan told Saipan Tribune, is “not controversial.”

Also enclosed within the new Senate version of the bill was language that lowered the cannabis commissioners’ annual salary from $60,000 per annum to $55,000 per annum.

“We are [still] reviewing [the Senate version],” Sablan said, adding that they only received the documents at their House session last July 18, 2019. “We are going to decide as a body what we are going to do with it.”

According to Sablan, the bill now has two possible outcomes, depending on the House’s action. If the House accepts the Senate revisions, then the bill goes straight to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for enactment. If the House rejects the revisions, both the House and the Senate will go into a conference committee to negotiate a middle ground.

“It’s too early to call,” Sablan said. “We’ve been trying to push the cannabis legislation out so that we can have the commission begin its work…and start promulgating the regulations for the industry.”

The Senate also inserted language that proposed for the immediate implementation of the homegrown marijuana registry system even without regulations, at a fee of $75.

The Senate also inserted language that prohibits commission personnel from being associated with any marijuana licensee for business or financial gain and also restricts entities licensed by the commission to offset any credit through the deduction of their gross revenues.

The bill has yet to be acted on by the House and Sablan noted that there is no tentative schedule yet for the next House session. He did note that he expects action on the bill at the next session.

The move to fully legalize marijuana in the CNMI has been stymied by the lack of regulations governing the law. The cannabis commission is supposed to come up with those regulations.

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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