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  • By Julian North

Governor weighs pros and cons of legalizing recreational pot

"When I medicate, I can wake up and don’t feel like killing myself in the morning," said cannabis advocate John Concepcion as he addressed Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, Acting Lt. Gov. Tina Muna Barnes, and others in attendance at an open community meeting regarding Bill 32-35.

As it happened, Bill 32-35, titled the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019, was about to be passed on a vote of 8-7 at the legislature in Hagatna as the community meeting at which Concepcion spoke proceeded.

The bill introduced by Sen. Clynt Ridgell, would allow the recreational use of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older and authorize its production and sale, provided it is regulated for public health, welfare, safety and taxation purposes.

Like Concepcion many citizens have either an opinion, experience or outlook regarding marijuana use. As such, and with legislation that can drastically alter the legality and prevalence of marijuana consumption pending her signature, Gov. Leon Guerrero opened up a meeting room in Adelup for citizens on both sides to voice their thoughts on the matter.

Those in opposition were largely man’amko and these senior citizens were equipped with anecdotes about the alleged “gateway effect” of marijuana, leading to the use of harder drugs. Negative impacts on a community were cited from observations of Chicago, Seattle, Colorado, California and Vancouver, Canada. The resounding themes were the gateway nature and the effects that passing this bill could have on children.

"I have a brother who recently just passed away due to hardcore drug use but he started by using marijuana," said Vanessa Oshiro. "I know I'm not the only one with a story like this. For those who are here and support marijuana use and claim that it isn't a gateway there are people like myself and others who have lived it and can tell you it is a gateway, maybe not for everyone but for some."

For Belinda Snyder, a former teacher, the health and wellness of Guam's youth was at the forefront of her opposition. "Not only does it hinder the behavior or children but it also hinders the cognitive development and development of the brain," said Snyder, who claimed that marijuana was prohibited by the Guam Organic Act.

For years on Guam medical marijuana has been legal, but due to lack of an appropriate lab to certify the drug for sale, the initiation of cannabis based treatment has yet to begin.

After their allotted time, opponents of the bill yielded the ear of the governor to the next group. However a number of them waited in the audience to hear the points that would be presented. While proponents of the bill were outnumbered, they were not unheard. Supporters of Bill 32-35 were organized and succinct, delivering emotionally charged testimonies highlighting the pain and suffering that could potentially be avoided or treated with regulated and responsible marijuana usage.

"When I separated from the military this is what was prescribed to me," Concepcion said as he showed a sign that had multiple pill bottles, "Most of these medications have side effects of depression and other things. When I was medicating with these I couldn't talk to my kids. I would snap at them. When I medicate with marijuana I don't feel depression, I can talk to my kids."

Others used a factual approach. "Right now the cannabis industry is thriving, it is a multi-million dollar industry that is being operated in the black market," said William Parkinson speaking in favor of Bill 32-35. "88,000 died last year from over dosing on alcohol, 480,000 died from cigarettes. The number of those who died from overdosing on cannabis was zero."

April 10 looms as the deadline for the governor's decision. "I thank you all for your input. Now I will do my due diligence to make the best decision," said Gov. Leon Guerrero, "I haven't read the bill entirely yet, but I told my legal team that I don't want to hear from them. I want to read it for myself and make the decision based on good information."

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