‘We aren’t ready for cannabis’

Two members of the House who did not support the passage of the cannabis legalization bill last Tuesday noted that the CNMI is “not ready” for legalized cannabis.

Rep. Donald Barcinas (R-Saipan), who voted against Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 20-178 to legalize the medical and recreational use of cannabis, and Vice Speaker Janet Maratita (R-Saipan), who abstained from voting, both believe that the CNMI is not ready for cannabis.

In an interview with Barcinas yesterday, he explained that the bill itself has several “questionable” provisions.

“The bill itself, being a revenue-generating bill, has a lot of fiscal impact on the government—there is a lot of cost to the government.,” he said, adding that the general fund would be tapped to finance the cannabis industry, as well as to implement regulations, equipment procurement, and whatnot.

“Also, the fact that [marijuana] is still illegal to the federal government, where are we going to deposit the money?” he asked.

During discussions on the bill Tuesday, Rep. Vinson Sablan (Ind-Saipan) noted that since the Drug Enforcement Administration still recognizes cannabis as a Schedule I drug, banks that are regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. want nothing to do with cash associated with the cannabis trade for fear of being shut down.

“There is a lot of enforcement that has to come into this industry. For me, we are not ready. We do not have the enforcement. We keep creating bills and measures that are going to make revenue but how much revenue is going to come in from this bill? There is a fiscal impact and we don’t even define that [in the bill]—the upfront cost,” noted Barcinas.

Maratita abstained from the vote because she believes that only medical cannabis should be legalized—not recreational cannabis.

“I support legalization of cannabis for medical use,” Maratita explained in Tuesday’s session. “Legalizing cannabis for recreational use and personal [use]…does not [take into account] the social upheaval that we will have in the Commonwealth.”

She said she understands the need of those who are terminally ill; have cancer; Alzheimer’s disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; and other diseases that benefit from cannabis—hence her support for medical use.

“What good will it do to our community to have all this [money] and yet our social welfare remains to be impacted?” she asked.

In an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday, Maratita believes the Legislature should remain prudent and take into consideration other aspects of legalizing cannabis, such as the federal government’s perspective on the substance.

“We might be losing federal grants that is available to our Public School [System], our healthcare, our law enforcement, and many other agencies that are receiving funding from the federal [government],” she said, noting that the federal government is strict in keeping a drug-free work environment in federal agencies.

Maratita also pointed out that casino industry has yet to take off in the CNMI. Citing a lack of studies on the casino’s social impact and, despite bringing in revenue for the NMI, Maratita believes that the Legislature must first prioritize the casino industry before moving on to the cannabis industry.

“Let’s finish the casino industry before we go to another industry,” she said, noting that the government should take things “one at a time.”

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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