Lawmakers in Guam voted in favor of a bill to legalize marijuana on Wednesday, which means the island territory could become the first place in the U.S. to end cannabis prohibition in 2019.
The legislation, which would permit adults 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase certain amounts of marijuana from licensed retailers, now heads to the desk of the Guam’s pro-reform governor.
Cannabis sales would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, with revenue helping to fund law enforcement, substance use disorder treatment and agriculture programs.
The bill needed eight “yes” votes in the Senate to pass and received exactly that many, with seven senators voting against the legislation. Those “yes” votes include the bill’s six cosponsors, one of whom is a Republican.
“The people of Guam can be proud that their elected officials are willing to do the right thing in regards to cannabis policy,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Lawmakers throughout the United States should take notice and notes.”
The legislature held several hearings on the bill in the run up to the vote, with a number of amendments being adopted in recent weeks, including provisions prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds, requiring an economic impact study and changing how revenues are allocated.
When the bill arrives on the desk of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero (D), she’s expected to sign it into law. The governor has been a supporter of cannabis legalization and met with the proposal’s sponsor, Sen. Sen. Clynt Ridgell (D), last month to go over the legislation.
“I think this is something that our island needs right now,” Ridgell told The Pacific Daily News in January.
Guam is set to join the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which legalized cannabis last year, as the latest U.S. territory to reform its marijuana laws.
The island became the first territory to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in 2014, but advocates have been critical of the program’s slow rollout. One senator said she’d support the adult-use legalization bill on the condition that it’s “an opportunity for us to get the medicine into the hands of our patients a lot sooner.”
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, another U.S. territory, signed a medical cannabis bill into law in January.
Marijuana legalization proposals have moved forward in several states this year—including being passed by the New Mexico House of Representatives—but until Guam lawmakers’ action, no U.S. legislature had yet sent a bill to end prohibition to a governor’s desk in 2019.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.