The next jurisdiction in the U.S. to legalize marijuana might not be a state.
Senators in the tiny territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) approved a bill to end cannabis prohibition on Wednesday.
Under the legislation, adults over 21 years of age would be allowed to grow, possess and use marijuana. A legal and regulated system of commercial production, processing and retail sales would be created. Resulting tax revenue would be used to fund implementation of the program and other government services.
The bill cleared the Senate with six yes votes and three abstentions, and now heads to the House. If approved there, it would go to the desk of Gov. Ralph Torres (R).
While the initial version of the legislation would have put the question of legalization to voters on the ballot during the November election, that provision was removed in committee and replaced with language that would accomplish the end of prohibition with an act of lawmakers.
The CNMI Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law recently released a 596-page report on the bill, finding that under prohibition, “the absence of marijuana regulations in the Commonwealth allows the existing marijuana black market operators to target persons under 21 years of age with total disregard to the safety, health and wellbeing of the youth in the Commonwealth” and that current law “prevents the Commonwealth government from imposing licenses, fees and taxes relative to the production and use of marijuana.”
The panel also noted the medical benefits of cannabis and said passage of the bill, which was introduced by Republican Sen. Sixto Igisomar, “is very timely and may even be a matter of life and death for some people.”
CNMI doesn’t yet have a medical cannabis law, meaning that if the bill is enacted it would be the first place to go straight from having across-the-board marijuana prohibition to allowing legal recreational use.
“The revenue that may be collected through the license fees and taxation of marijuana can be used to address the many medical and social tribulations affecting our islands, the economy and our community,” the committee wrote. “The passage of this legislation will also give Commonwealth residents living abroad who are consuming medical marijuana as an alternative treatment, the opportunity to come back to the Commonwealth to be with their family and loved ones without worrying about the lack of legal access to marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
After noting the fiscal benefits brought about by legalization in a growing number of U.S. states, the lawmakers said that CNMI would get an economic boost as well:
“Your Committee also finds that cultural and ancestral history of the people of the Commonwealth includes the skillful hands and minds of cultivating the lands. The passage of Senate Bill 20-62, Senate Draft 1 and the establishment of the regulations for a cannabis industry in the Commonwealth will provide our local farmers and local entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to create a new agricultural industry and succeed in a business designed on the foundation of farming.”
In recent months, senators have held a series of public hearings on the cannabis proposal, and supporters have turned out in big numbers to ask lawmakers to consider legalization seriously.
“Support is strong and we are hopeful,” Lawrence Duponcheel of Sensible CNMI, an advocacy group, told Marijuana Moment in an email.
Lawmakers in Guam, another U.S. territory in the Pacific, have also been considering legalization.
Read a copy of the latest version of the CNMI marijuana legalization bill below:
Leading Congressional Marijuana Opponent In Danger Of Losing Seat, Polls Find
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) is facing his first major congressional reelection challenge in over a decade, and his opponent, Democratic candidate Colin Allred, is hot on his trail, according to recent polling.
For marijuana reform advocates, it’s a race to follow.
Sessions, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, has systematically blocked votes on cannabis-related legislation by his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Measures on everything from expanding access to medical marijuana for veterans to protecting legal cannabis states from federal interference have been dead upon arrival. Even hemp is a no-go with Sessions at the helm of the powerful committee.
Not a single cannabis-related vote has been allowed on the House floor during the current Congress, thanks to Sessions.
The closest the GOP congressman has come to compromise on the issue in recent months seems to be his pledge to continue talks with a medical marijuana advocacy group. Members of the organization told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that the congressman was “very receptive” to their mission when they met—but Sessions has yet to commit to backing any specific legislation.
But in November, voters in Texas’s 32nd Congressional District will have an opportunity to elect a representative with starkly different attitude toward drug policy: Allred, a civil rights attorney and former NFL player, supports medical cannabis and decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.
A new poll from The New York Times poll shows a surprisingly tight race.
The Times called more than 43,000 voters across District 32 over the past week to get a sense of voter sentiment heading into November, talking to 500 of them. The results of those calls showed 48 percent of respondents supporting Sessions to Allred’s 47 percent.
Of course, 500 isn’t an especially large sample size and the margin of error is about five percentage points.
But another recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling for a healthcare advocacy group showed Allred ahead of the anti-cannabis incumbent by five points (47-42 percent).
.@ppppolls for @ProtectOurCare, Sept. 17-18:
– #TX07 (562 RVs, MOE +/-4.1%): @Lizzie4Congress 47%, @johnculberson 45% (Trump net approval: -3)
– #TX32 (555 RVs, MOE +/-4.2%): @ColinAllredTX 47%, @PeteSessions 42% (Trump net approval: -10)
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) September 24, 2018
Accordingly, the race has been graded as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.
The apparent closeness of the contest is noteworthy. Fewer voters seem to have formed strong opinions about Allred, with almost 50 percent of respondents telling the Times they couldn’t say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the candidate. Sessions, a known quantity as a sitting elected official, had a higher favorable rating (42 percent) than Allred, but also a significantly higher unfavorable rating (44 percent).
Respondents in the Times survey were also asked to weigh in on the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). Forty-nine percent of voters in Sessions’s district said they’d vote O’Rourke if the election was “being held today,” while 47 percent said they’d vote Cruz.
It’s hard to say how much each candidate’s position on cannabis will tilt the scales in November, but what is known is that a bipartisan majority of Texans side with Allred when it comes to marijuana reform. A 2017 survey found “83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use,” for example.
More on Allred’s stance on marijuana policy.
Asked about his plans for veterans transitioning back to civilian life, who might be struggling with mental health issues, Allred said “[p]art of that care should be the legalization of medical marijuana and cannabis as a non-addictive alternative to opioids and to treat PTSD and other battlefield injuries.”
It is unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain. https://t.co/NxpfE55Xzr
— Colin Allred (@ColinAllredTX) June 7, 2018
The candidate has also criticized Sessions for holding up cannabis legislation, writing it’s “unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain.”
Canadians Involved In Marijuana Industry Not Welcome In US, Feds Confirm
As Canada inches closer to opening its retail marijuana market next month, U.S. border officials are officially laying out their policy of weeding out the country’s cannabis consumers as well as those who work or invest in the industry.
In a Friday press release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed previous news reports and affirmed that border officials will continue to enforce U.S. federal law, which for decades has defined marijuana as having a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit.
“Canada’s legalization of marijuana will not change CBP’s enforcement of United States laws regarding controlled substances,” the statement reads.
But more than just stopping marijuana from crossing the border, the federal agency will also actively deny entry into the country by people who work in the legal cannabis industry.
“As marijuana continues to be a controlled substance under United States law, working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S.,” reads the CBP statement.
Canada became the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana in June. Starting on October 17, Canadian adults will be able to purchase and consume cannabis legally.
Although 31 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical use and nine states and D.C. allow recreational use—including Washington, Vermont and Maine, which sit along the Canadian border—CBP officials say that entering the country with marijuana, even into a legalized state, “may result in seizure, fines, and/or arrest and impact admissibility.”
CBP officials spoken about the anti-marijuana policy before, but with Friday’s press release it’s now officially in black and white.
In the eyes of the U.S. federal government, “we don’t recognize that as a legal business,” Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations told Politico earlier this month.
The senior official also cautioned that travelers risk a “lifetime ban” if they lie about their past drug use. “Our officers are not going to be asking everyone whether they have used marijuana, but if other questions lead there—or if there is a smell coming from the car, they might ask,” he said.
Any traveler who admits to past use of illegal drugs, including marijuana, will not be allowed into the U.S. CBP will then keep a record of the traveler and prohibit them from returning, whether or not the individual has previously entered the country. If they wish to return, the traveler must apply for a waiver to lift the lifetime ban at a cost of $585, as reported by Politico.
In response, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) demanded that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen clarify her department’s policy and how it would go about enforcing it.
In a draft letter obtained by Marijuana Moment this month, the congressman posed a list of questions including how, exactly, the Department of Homeland Security will “evaluate and determine that an authorized foreign national is associated with the cannabis industry.”
Photo courtesy of Gerald L. Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Idaho Gubernatorial Candidates Disagree On Marijuana Legalization
Marijuana is an increasingly prominent issue in many political races this year.
Even in campaigns where cannabis is not a central concern, the candidates are often taking strong positions on legalization when asked about it.
Here’s a look at where the major party contenders in Idaho’s gubernatorial contest stand on ending marijuana prohibition and related reforms.
Democrat: Paulette Jordan
While Jordan, a former state legislator and tribal council member, has focused more on decriminalization and medical cannabis during her campaign, she does support full marijuana legalization.
I believe that we need to move toward full legalization in Idaho as well. It will generate much-needed revenue for our state and it will make our criminal justice system more ethical. (3/4)
— Paulette Jordan (@PauletteEJordan) April 19, 2018
Jordan has touted her work on a decriminalization bill in the legislature, saying “I realize it’s baby steps in this state. But the fact of the matter remains that 70 percent of our borders are surrounded by states that have legalized marijuana.”
She tweeted, but later deleted, “I look forward to decriminalizing Cannabis and leading the way for medicinal cannabis as an alternative medicine that is taxed and well regulated.”
During a Democratic primary debate, she said there’s “nothing wrong” with legalization.
In a Facebook Live interview with the Idaho Statesman (roughly 10 minutes into the video below), she spoke about children who benefit from cannabidiol (CBD) oil, saying that marijuana is “a natural medicine that mother earth has created” and that has “been here for thousands of years, as long as my ancestors have been here.”
Addressing broader recreational legalization, she said, “the numbers that have been very beneficial to other states when it comes down to resources for education.”
Republican: Brad Little
Currently the state’s lieutenant governor and a former state lawmaker, Little opposes legalization but does support limited CBD medical cannabis access.
“I support existing Idaho law and oppose the legalization of marijuana,” he said during a Republican primary debate, criticizing a legislative proposal to expand on the existing CBD pilot program established by current Gov. Butch Otter (R).
“We are expanding the current quality controlled CBD oil treatment study taking place where CBD oil is being administered to children with epilepsy or seizure disorders, and the results seem to be proving very successful. I support this pilot, and I want to ensure that we get all the data and know that this treatment works,” he said. “As for this session’s CBD legislation, I think it was far too broad and had too many unintended consequences.”
The Idaho Republican Party tweeted about Little’s opposition (and Jordan’s support for) “fully legalizing all marijuana.”
We’re sure it was just an oversight they forgot to include:
Little NO, Jordan YES
Little NO, Jordan YES
Mandatory gun licensing & registration:
Little NO, Jordan YES
— Idaho GOP (@IdahoGOP) September 22, 2018