On September 21, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) became the first region of the United States to legalize adult use via legislation rather than voter initiative. Governor Ralph Torres, a Republican, signed the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, which allows for possession, cultivation, medical use, and sale.

The governor had previously been noncommittal about the bill, saying to a local news source:

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.

After signing the bill, however, the governor released this statement:

From the hard work of our Legislature going out and conducting numerous public hearings on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to the overwhelming support from members of our community, it is only fitting that I sign this bill into law in the best interest of our people, especially those suffering from debilitating illnesses and for our island economy.

He also advised that marijuana did not become legal with his signature. A commission needs to be appointed with “members from Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands,” and once the commission is approved, it will have “180 days to create the regulations and promulgate them. The regulations take…effect 10 days after adoption and publication.” The governor added that these steps will be taken to “ensure that this industry will be properly regulated and enforced. We want to do this the right way, and I also expect the Legislature to send me a companion bill that outlines my recommendations to strengthen this bill for our community’s public safety and public health.”

Sensible CNMI, the group behind the drive to legalization, issued this statement from Lawrence Duponcheel, a co-founder: “We are proud of our governor and the Legislature for ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the Northern Marianas and adopting a more sensible system of regulation. We look forward to working with lawmakers, the Cannabis Commission, and other stakeholders to implement this legislation swiftly and responsibly.”

Once the regulations are in place, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and five grams of extract. The new law will create a registry for adult users and patients. Registered adult users will be able to grow six mature and twelve immature plants, and medical users twice that. The law also allows for the creation of six types of marijuana businesses: producers, test labs, processors, retailers, wholesalers and lounges. There will be a 10-percent excise tax on marijuana.

CNMI is the first to legalize via the legislative process, but it may not be the last. In New Jersey, legislators and the governor are in discussion to pass a legalization bill. Oklahoma, Michigan, Missouri, Utah, and Vermont are also considering legalization measures. In Missouri and Utah, for example, the legislatures are taking more serious steps toward legalization in anticipation of the passage of voter initiatives.

What do you think? Will state legislatures start legalizing? Leave a comment below.

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