Thursday, June 4, 2020
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Northern Mariana Islands Vote To Legalize Marijuana

Marijuana legalization in the United States is heading west — about as far west as possible to still be considered part of Uncle Sam’s team. Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), which consists of 15 islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, have approved a measure aimed at legalizing marijuana for any purpose.

The legislation, which has been sort of a whirlwind effort, would allow adults to use cannabis for recreational consumption, while also making it legal for medicinal application. Industrial hemp production would also be freed under the bill. It must now go before the Senate for concurrence.

The CNMI Senate made this push once before. Earlier this year, lawmakers in the upper chamber were all set to go on a similar piece of legislation, but there were some snags that prevented it from being picked up by the House of Representatives. The House eventually introduced its own proposal, which is the one was passed this week. The Senate must sign off on this legislation before it can be shipped to the governor. The bill reads as follows:

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.

If this legislation is signed, CMNI will make history by becoming the first U.S. territory to go from prohibition to a fully legalized marketplace in one fell swoop. The island did not begin with a toe in the water approach to this reform by first legalizing a medical marijuana program or by implementing some kind of decriminalization measure. It has been an all or nothing deal. No other U.S. jurisdiction has managed to do this so far.

“The true essence of legalization has always been about having safe and legal access to cannabis without fear of arrest and harassment,” Gerry Hemley, co-founder of Sensible CNMI, said in a statement. “This thoughtful legislation will control, regulate, and tax marijuana in a manner that is similar to alcohol. It was carefully crafted to improve public health, protect children, and keep our communities safe. We hope senators will join their House colleagues in supporting this commonsense measure.”

If the Senate approves, the bill will slide across the desk of Governor Torres. It remains unclear whether he will embrace this common sense reform or slap it with a veto.


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