U.S. Territory’s House of Representatives Approves Cannabis Bill

Lawmakers in a U.S. territory have approved a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, and also medical cannabis and industrial hemp.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, is heading toward legalizing cannabis, industrial hemp and setting up a regulated market. With cannabis currently illegal in all forms, the legalization with market creation is with a legislative process, not a ballot initiative—a first in the U.S.

The territory’s Senate had approved a similar bill, but the House made some changes and later ended up creating a new bill after concerns that revenue-making legislation must begin in the House of Representatives. The Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 proposal was passed 18-1 and will go to the Senate for another approval.

“The momentum is strong and the support and political will is there,” said Gerry Palacios of the advocacy group Sensible CNMI. “Our goal is to legalize cannabis this year for a better future and we are three steps closer starting with a full House vote in favor.”

The proposal states, “ . . . the Legislature finds that it is in our best interest to move marijuana into a regulated and controlled market for responsible adult personal use, allowing for 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, such as drug abuse treatment; furthermore, providing an effective alternative medicine for those suffering from medical conditions; and allowing for the development of an industrial hemp industry here in the CNMI.”

Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero, who re-introduced the bill in the House later added that a companion bill will be introduced later on, and that the legislators will continue to work to address any issues that arise. Specifically, he noted that because the the law is based on the use of cash, they want to make sure that the country can still receive federal funding from the U.S.The Northern Mariana Islands join a small selection of other U.S. territories that have recently considered cannabis in some form, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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