A key committee approved revised language of a bill that would fully legalize marijuana in a U.S. territory, paving the path to a floor vote in the House of Representatives during the next legislative sitting.
The legislation in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), an earlier version of which has already cleared the Senate, came close to a House vote last month, but it was sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO). The panel made several revisions, but one aspect of the legislation threatened to further delay a vote.
The JGO had to determine whether fees and penalties against individuals who violate the law would be counted as revenue generators. Any legislation that would generate revenue for the territory must be introduced in the House, whereas this bill originated in the Senate.
Following a brief recess, the JGO concluded that the fees did not count as revenue generators and recommended passage in the House on Monday. Now advocates are awaiting approval from Speaker Ralph Demapan (R), which would enable lawmakers to put a vote on the bill on the calendar in the coming weeks.
JGO Chairman Rep. Ivan Blanco (R) expressed confidence that the amended bill will garner majority support in the House.
“Overall, I think we have a sound bill that included and considered proposed languages from several shareholders and folks in the community,” Blanco said in a Facebook post. “No bill is perfect, but this should be a good start.”
“The momentum is strong and the support and political will is there,” Gerry Palacios of the advocacy group Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. “Our goal is to legalize cannabis this year for a better future and we are three steps closer starting with a full House vote in favor.”
“We just hope there are no more surprises and that concerns have been addressed to go forward.”
If the legislation is enacted, CNMI will become the first U.S. jurisdiction to go straight to legalizing marijuana for recreational use without first having a medical cannabis law.