Officials in American Samoa are considering legalizing medical marijuana to generate funds for a government health care program in the U.S. territory.
The proposal was originally floated by the jurisdiction’s Medicaid director, Sandra King Young, who said enacting the policy change could help fill a revenue gap that’s preventing the territory from accessing federal dollars for health care. American Samoa needs to raise about $30 million on its own to get $84 million in Medicaid funding from the federal government.
The “idea was legalizing medicinal marijuana and then using 100 percent of those taxes for medical, but I know that can be a controversial issue and, again, that is a decision for the legislature,” she said at a recent House Health Committee hearing, according to Samoa News. “Otherwise I don’t really know where else we can create new money.”
House Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi said the proposal is under consideration by the legislature, though it’s unclear if any legalization bills have been filed or if there are plans in the works to do so.
If American Samoa does advance cannabis reform, it would be joining other U.S. territories that have implemented—or are working on—the policy change.
The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) unveiled a revised marijuana legalization bill in May. That move came one year after medical cannabis legislation was signed into law. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) also recently said that marijuana often represents a safer alternative to opioids for the treatment of pain.
Guam legalized adult-use marijuana last year, and voters there approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2014.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands legalized marijuana in 2018.
Medical cannabis is also legal in Puerto Rico.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.