Editor’s Note: The following is the text of the testimony that the author presented at the two-day public hearings on Senate Bill 19-06 on Rota. The bill proposes to legalize the medical use of marijuana in the Commonwealth. Due to its length, this article is being published as a series.
Second part of a series
Just to give you a brief overview of the moratorium legislation I am proposing:
1. Under the moratorium the CNMI will have a government owned and operated industry retaining 75 percent of the revenues with 25 percent going to the partnership(s) in the private sector. The CNMI’s moratorium will bring in more funding for our government than Colorado and Washington states combined as they are only collecting 7 and 8 percent in taxes but the CNMI will get 75 percent.
2. The CNMI will have the best controls over the accountability of the marijuana industry as a government operation. There are many pitfalls of privately-run operations that can be avoided under the government. We can depend on the government to control and monitor all marijuana and marijuana edibles. We don’t have to worry about the government buying from unlicensed growers and making illegal sales as we see with private industry and individuals. We don’t have to worry about the government making and selling illicit marijuana products. Trust me, the government is the best way!
3. There will be state dispensaries (stores) on all islands selling marijuana and local marijuana edibles, roots, and drinks under the supervision of the mayor’s office. Only hotels and resorts that house guest can apply for a dispensary license to purchase from the government for the re-sale to tourists/guest in their establishments. This service is needed to protect the integrity of the tourist market, to protect the government’s interest, and to help shield tourists from criminal elements who will try to prey on tourists who are marijuana smokers.
4. Rota, Tinian, and the Northern Islands will be the primary cultivation and exporting centers for the CNMI. Rota will also be poised to export to Guam and to Saipan. Availability of land and security limits cultivation on Saipan and there will be a need for almost a half-million plants in our first year based on Colorado’s and Washington’s consumption.
5. Under the moratorium private citizens can grow their own marijuana but will be limited in the number of “mature plants” as seedlings will not be considered usable. However, there will be conditions for shielding the plants from our youth and plain view. Growers will need a permit and rules will be created for permitting. For example: If your property is too exposed or too close to a school then you may not be allowed to grow on that property.
6. Individuals who grow their own marijuana can “barter” with their marijuana and others in the community for goods and/or services but not to be sold. All monetary sales are strictly reserved for the CNMI government and to prevent any federal intervention. Anyone caught selling without a license will be subject to federal prosecution, which is what happened in Colorado when illegal purchases or sales were made.
7. There will be designated smoke-free zones throughout the CNMI as well as on any private property where allowed by the property owner. The smoke-free zones shall be established by the municipal councils on Saipan, Tinian and Rota. The smoke-free zones shall be marked with a red/yellow/green sign(s) to be designed by the CNMI Arts Council for the governor’s approval, printing, and distribution to the municipal councils.
Safety sensitive jobs will not be excluded from marijuana testing. NMC will also be tasked and funded with the ability to document and generate a summary analysis on the marijuana industry in the CNMI. Based on NMC’s report, the Legislature will then generate a marijuana initiative for the people to vote on in the next general election.
Day 2 statement
The legalization of marijuana offers genuine hope and prosperity for the people of Rota, that’s why the mayor wanted me here! When I presented the concerns of people for full legalization yesterday, there were some things I did not talk about due to the time restraints.
The main reasons I’m here is for full legalization and to speak for the silent majority who want full legalization, which is a larger number of people than those needing marijuana for medical use. In fact, the support is so large I think this body should know that the House of Representatives is already considering changing this bill we are discussing today. I have talked with members of the House and they have assured me that they will be fighting to change the bill and to make marijuana legal for all use.
The House, which is responsible for finding sources of revenues for the government, is more concerned with full legalization and the potential for maximizing revenues as a government operation. Not only does this medical bill seem useless with federal law pending on medical use for all states, there is also the reality that the House intends to change this bill anyway if it is sent to them in its present form. Just to show you how serious the House is, I’m presently working with the Vice Speaker to conduct a presentation to the House on full legalization and the moratorium. I just hope the one point that this body will leave with is that full legalization is what you should have on the menu and that it should be a government operation.
One of the main reasons I’m promoting the moratorium as a government operation is because marijuana is still against federal law. The federal government will respect and even defend the laws of our state level government and they will intercede when state laws are being violated. The only dealings with federal authorities in Colorado were when private businesses and citizens violated state marijuana laws. Who can best follow state laws is the only question and we know the answer is the state itself, not private citizens. The great part about this is the accountability of the entire marijuana operation to the state and not private business and individuals.
Ever since I first wrote about legalization I have been getting all kinds of encouragement to keep speaking up for the people. I was riding my motorcycle and was actually stopped by two police officers who just wanted to thank me and to tell me to please keep trying to get marijuana legalized. These two officers were not concerned with smoking but concerned with the prime directive of our President who told America to “reform our marijuana laws and stop locking up our youth for something almost every adult has tried.” This includes the President who has admitted to being a smoker. These two officers did not like the fact and reality that when they encounter drunks and belligerent people they get a passive treatment that does not involve jail but when a teen is caught with one marijuana cigarette the teen is taken to jail. These officers also knew that marijuana crimes in Colorado had dropped over 700 percent in the first year of legalization, giving the police more time and resources to work on the serious crimes.
To be continued.
Ambrose Bennett is a former teacher and an advocate for the full legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth.