A proposal to fully legalize marijuana in a U.S. territory ran into a roadblock on Tuesday.
While legalization advocates in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) hoped that the bill’s being listed on the agenda for the territory’s House of Representatives session meant it would be voted on, that’s not what happened.
Instead, the cannabis legislation was referred back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO), which unanimously approved it last month.
House JGO Chairman Ivan Blanco said in a Facebook post that lawmakers needed more time to make changes based on procedural restrictions.
“The committee is poised to make the recommended amendments because any revenue generation must be done in the House and not the Senate,” where the legalization bill originated, he said, referring to taxation components of the legislation.
“While my colleagues and I understand and have heard many in the public recommend for this bill’s passage, l ask for your indulgence to allow the committee to ensure proper language is inserted that is within the bounds of the law,” the chairman wrote.
“I look forward to making the amendments and placing the bill back on the floor during the next session” he said, referring to the House’s next full meeting, which is expected soon. “In the meantime, I still welcome input and your thoughts on the bill.”
Lawrence Duponcheel of the pro-legalization advocacy group Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment that he is optimistic about the legislation’s passage despite the temporary delay.
“The unofficial tally of votes is looking promising,” he said of the 20-member body.
The bill could face another obstacle even if it passes.
Last week, Gov. Ralph Torres flagged concerns about the potential impact of legalization on public health, Marianas Variety reported. After reading the bill, he said “we should look at both sides of the coin.”
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime? If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Advocates believe that a review of the existing data, which shows that legalization is associated with a decrease in violent crime, should assuage the governor’s concerns as he weighs signing the bill.
What the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.
If the governor ultimately signs the legislation, CNMI, which has no medical cannabis law, would be the first U.S. jurisdiction to go directly from a policy of prohibition to full, adult-use legalization.
Another U.S. territory, Guam, may also take up cannabis reform soon. Guam voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2014 that regulators have been slow to implement.