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US Territory Considers Legal Marijuana Bill

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The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) may have a tiny population, but the U.S. territory could be about to make a huge impact on the global debate about marijuana legalization.

A key CNMI Senate committee will hold a hearing on a cannabis reform bill on Tuesday and, if its supporters get their way, the territory could join the eight U.S. states that have already enacted legalization, along with the District of Columbia.

The legislation, filed in August by Republican Sen. Sixto Igisomar, wouldn’t legalize marijuana right away. Rather, if the bill is approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ralph Torres, also a Republican, CNMI’s nearly 18,000 registered voters will get a chance to end prohibition at the ballot box in November 2018.

Under the legislation’s key provisions, adults over 21 would be able to legally possess four ounces of cannabis, as well as additional amounts of marijuana products and extracts. Home cultivation of 12 mature plants and 24 seedlings would also be allowed, and medical cannabis patients would be able to cultivate even more with their doctors’ certifications.

Licensing and regulation of the legal marijuana industry would be handled by a new Cannabis Commission, with the goal of accepting business applications by July 2019.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law will consider the bill on Tuesday. It is the first of several expected hearings, with three public meetings also scheduled for later this month.

Lawmakers considered similar legislation that Igisomar filed last year, but it died without a vote.

Advocates are optimistic that this year’s bill has a chance of being enacted if supporters show up and make their voices heard.

“Legalization will not happen by itself. We as a community need to engage the issue proactively if we want this to happen,” Sensible CNMI’s Gerry Palacios Hemley said in a press release. “The time to act is now.”

Photo courtesy of Dank Depot.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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