The legislature of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. territory in the Pacific, approved a bill in August that would legalize marijuana and industrial hemp. Governor Ralph Torres, a Republican, has not made a definite signal of his intention on whether he will sign or veto the bill.

According to Sensible CNMI, an advocacy group, the bill is “modeled after Oregon’s Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act of 2014…which encompasses the best recognized management practices to control, regulate, and tax marijuana and industrial hemp.” If the bill becomes law, it will “allow for the personal, medical, and industrial use of marijuana by responsible adults 21+ by establishing a strict regulatory system. The production, processing, sale, and possession of marijuana will be legal and regulated in the Northern Mariana Islands. However, the public consumption of marijuana will remain prohibited.”

What would the new law allow?

The law addresses adult use, medical use, regulations (including for grows and hemp farming), and taxation. Adults will be allowed to possess an ounce and have six plants out of public view at home. Employers and landlords will be able to set their own marijuana policy. Doctors will be allowed to recommend marijuana to patients. Regulations are aimed to make small-scale production available to small businesses. Liquor stores will not be allowed to sell marijuana, and retailers who do sell marijuana will not be allowed to sell anything else. Grower-level taxes of $35 per ounce on bud, $10 per ounce of leaves, and $5 per immature plant will be spent on drug abuse prevention programs at public schools as well as the general fund and a retirement fund.

In addition to the legislature, others in the government have supported legalization. The mayor of Tinian, Joey P. San Nichols, said in a statement: “As a former Attorney General, I have seen first-hand the economic and social costs of prohibition whether it is resources spent on arrests…or the consequences of employability as a result of a single marijuana arrest…I…give my full endorsement of the intent of this bill.” Chester Hinds, assistant attorney general and chief drug prosecutor, said in a TV interview that “hopefully with this new legislation, people who smoke marijuana or want to grow marijuana won’t have to be a part of the criminal justice system anymore.” The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed the legislation, according to local news reports found on Sensible CNMI’s Facebook page. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Sixto Igisomar, said in a statement that “I believe this bill…will provide a balance amongst our citizens/residents and generate enough revenue to offset any cost of enforcement and education to make marijuana accessible to people with debilitating illnesses, and for other purposes.”

What will the governor do?

Governor Torres has said, in remarks reported in Marianas Variety, “I’ve read the marijuana bill and…I will say this for the record: we should look at both sides of the coin. In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime? If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public-safety issues.” A story in Bloomberg Businessweek links the governor to a Chinese casino on CNMI that “somehow” generates “more than $2 billion a month” in bets. That article does not, however, indicate what the casino’s owners think of legalization.

What do you think? Will Governor Torres sign the bill? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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