CNMI braces for a new industry

Debate continues despite the enactment of law legalizing marijuana

CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres is joined by proponents of marijuana legalization during the signing of the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 on Sept. 21. Photo by Jonathan Perez

Saipan — Sept. 21 became a historic day for the Northern Marianas when Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed House Bill 20-178, now known as Public Law 20-66 or the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, that would allow the CNMI to slowly transition to legalization of marijuana.

Immediately, the social media went abuzz. The wisecrackers joked that it’s high time the Mariana Islands is renamed Marijuana Islands. The CNMI is the second U.S. territory to legalize marijuana, following Guam. But the CNMI has upstaged its sister-island by earning the distinction of being the first territory to legalize weed for purposes other than medicinal. And while Guam voters ratified medical cannabis in 2014, local patients still don’t have access to related products because adoption of regulations remains in limbo.

“Today, our people made history. We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use,” Torres said. “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.”

While advocates of pot legalization rejoice, the enactment of the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 has not abated the familiar debate. Some have expressed concerns about the impact of the newly created cannabis industry on this tightly-knit community. Pro-cannabis advocates, especially those who endorse it for medical use, welcomed Torres’ decision as it will open the door for easy access to marijuana and other products sourced from the cannabis plant.