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  • By Bruce Lloyd

Guam recreational pot bill signed

Public Law 35-5 is a big media splash

The last time the governor's office at Adelup saw anything like this from the media world was 2017, when North Korea was threatening a rocket attack on the island and President Trump was loudly threatening to respond in kind. That exchange of macho statesmanship brought the world media to the island, hoping to find out how it would come out. As it turned out, not much happened except the production of accounts that filled TV newscasts and large chunks of newspaper space.

On Thursday, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero was able to command wall-to-wall local media presence by signing a bill into law. More formally known as the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019, Public Law 35-5 is intended to legalize and regulate adult use of marijuana.

Its supporters believe passage of the law will create a new industry for Guam and will finally provide greater and safer access for medical cannabis consumers. Medical use is already legal, but has yet to be implemented.

“I have the decided to sign the bill into law. My decision was made with an open mind,” Leon Guerrero said at a press conference in Adelup, where she announced the signing of Bill 32-35, which had sparked a heated community debate. “At the end of the day, I have to answer this question,” said the governor, who openly supported recreational marijuana during her election campaign.

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Guam joins the CNMI and nine other states, where recreational marijuana is legal. In 2014, Guam voters approved medical use of marijuana but the program is hampered by a lack of a testing lab.

The Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019, now Public Law 35-5, legalizes adult use of marijuana by individuals 21 years and older. “Nothing changes in the policies at the workplace. As a responsible business, we must continue the zero-tolerance policy,” Leon Guerrero said.

In an apparent bow to continued opposition, Leon Guerrero signed the bill in her office and then responded to some of the criticism and questions from reporters.

"I say to the opponents that I appreciate their concerns and their concerns are also my concerns... A lot of their concerns were safety and increased access to children. They also had concerns about the workplace." Gov. Leon Guerrero said the development of rules and regulations for the law over the next year should respond to the concerns."It is very clear in this piece of legislation that you cannot use it in public places," she said.

But what of the concerns about exposure of children?

"I say it's the parent's role and the government is there to assist and provide resources to help the parents. But parents must never abandon their responsibility and the protection of their children and nothing in this bill, now law, changes that. I think more it strengthens the controls and now that we have it up from the black market industry, away from dealers that are predators on our children, we can better monitor and better control it."

The next step is to “educate the people” and “make them aware of what we can and what we cannot do,” the governor said. “It is very clear that we cannot use it in public places.”

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Senators passed Bill 32-35 on an 8-7 vote on March 27. The split vote in legislature reflected the community’s polarity on recreational marijuana.

Author of the bill, Sen. Clynt Ridgell: "I want to thank all of my colleagues who supported me on this measure. I want to say thank you to the governor for believing in this measure. It was a difficult decision to make and I am sure there was a lot of discussion in the community about it, but ultimately, I think this is the best decision for the island, so I thank the governor and all my colleagues from the bottom of my heart for seeing this vision that I believe Guam can achieve in the future. This is something that I campaigned on. It is not something that I shied away from. It's something I stood up in defense of and I will continue to defend it. I know that we can make Guam a better place and that this is a step in the right direction.

In a press release, Ridgell said there's more to come before the new law is implemented.

“This has been and continues to be a community issue, but the fight is not over yet,” Ridgell said. “I invite the public to remain focused on continuing to provide input in the development of the rules and regulations by the Cannabis Control Board for safe, adult use cannabis. My colleagues and I spent a lot of time discussing this bill, and although we may have differing opinions on the matter, I am grateful that this was an issue that was taken very seriously.”

Last week, a congressional panel voted to approve the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would provide a safe harbor for financial institutions serving marijuana-related businesses. The passage of H.R. 1595, if signed into law, would clear an impediment to the establishment of marijuana-related businesses in U.S. jurisdictions where medical and recreational use is legal.

Also known as SAFE Banking Act, H.R. 1595 passed the House Financial Services Committee by a vote of 45-15 on Thursday. The bill would also extend to Guam and pave the way for a marijuana industry on the island now that Ridgell’s bill has been signed into law.

The Archdiocese of Agana opposes recreational marijuana, saying Guam is “already riddled with a drug problem of epidemic magnitude.”

"We are saddened by the decision of Governor Lou Leon Guerrero to approve Bill 32 and sign it into law. We urge as she said today, for all groups in our community to devote tremendous effort and attention to protecting our youth from this illicit drug, which we all agree many of them are already regularly ingesting," the Archdiocese said in a statement.

"How can we expect our youth to obediently stay away from “adult use cannabis” when it will multiply immensely throughout the island, and when adults themselves will now be more widely abusing it other than for medicinal purposes? The war on keeping drugs and substance abuse away from our children just lost. major ground. And we are our own worst enemies." The CNMI was the first U.S. territory to legalize both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. Marijuana, however, is not yet legally accessible until regulations are set in place. The CNMI Cannabis Commission has yet to draft rules and regulations pending the CNMI legislature's action on an amendment bill.


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