If signed into law, the bill would legalize the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for adults 21 years and older.
A small territory could be the next jurisdiction in the United States to legalize adult use marijuana. Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have approved a bill that would end cannabis prohibition and legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.
Senate Bill 20-62 was approved by Senators last month, and then approved unanimously last week by the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JDO). The next step will be a full House vote. If approved there, it will make its way to Governor Ralph Torres’ desk for consideration.
Under the proposed legislation, adults would be legally allowed to grow, possess, and consume marijuana. The bill would also establish a regulated system of commercial production, including the licensing of processors and retail stores. Tax revenue would be used to implement the program and to fund other government services.
Northern Mariana Islands, also called Northern Marianas, is a self-governing commonwealth in association with the U.S. It is made up of 22 islands and islets in the western Pacific Ocean, north of Guam.
CNMI has not yet legalized medical marijuana, which means if the legislation is signed into law, the territory would be the first U.S. jurisdiction to transition straight from prohibition to recreational legalization.
The legislation, filed last August by Republican Sen. Sixto Igisomar, would initially have presented the territory’s nearly 18,000 registered voters to decide on marijuana legalization at the ballot box in November 2018. That provision was removed in committee and replaced with language that calls for the end of prohibition through an act of lawmakers.
A 596-page report recently published by the CNMI Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law concluded that prohibition has allowed the illegal marijuana market to target young people.
Under prohibition, “the absence of marijuana regulations in the Commonwealth allows the existing marijuana black market operators to target persons under 21 years of age with total disregard to the safety, health and wellbeing of the youth in the Commonwealth.”
The report also called out the revenue lost from not imposing licenses, fees, and taxes on the legal production and sale of marijuana, and how legalization would allow people to access cannabis for therapeutic reasons.
“The revenue that may be collected through the license fees and taxation of marijuana can be used to address the many medical and social tribulations affecting our islands, the economy and our community,” wrote the committee. “The passage of this legislation will also give Commonwealth residents living abroad who are consuming medical marijuana as an alternative treatment, the opportunity to come back to the Commonwealth to be with their family and loved ones without worrying about the lack of legal access to marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
CNMI lawmakers considered similar legislation proposed last year by Igisomar, but the bill died without a vote.
Shifting Marijuana Laws
While marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law, if Senate Bill 20-62 is approved, CNMI would join nine U.S. states and Washington, D.C. as U.S. jurisdictions that have legalized recreational marijuana. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana.
Legalization is likely to soon expand throughout the U.S., as voters in Michigan and Oklahoma are will be presented with marijuana measures to consider this year. In Missouri, voters may have three different medical marijuana initiatives to vote on in November.
Guam, which currently permits marijuana for medical purposes, has also been considering the idea of full legalization.