Bloomin photos Northern Mariana Islands .jpg

U.S. Territory Votes To Legalize Recreational Marijuana

By Roger Malespin  photo/istock/translucent-yy

The House of Representatives of the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has voted to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, and create a system of taxed and regulated sales. The bill is called the  “Taulumwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018,” and would create a Cannabis Commission to oversee any associated industries and imposes taxes, fees, and fines, and also allow medical marijuana and industrial hemp.

The CNMI is one of two U.S. commonwealths, along with Puerto Rico, and while they do have the right to pass legislation of their own sovereignty, they likely would not have passed this bill without the current wave of pro-cannabis legislation across the U.S. itself. The bill is the second version of such, with the first originating in the Senate but having to be recalled because the CNMI constitution states revenue generating bills can only originate in the House.  

Named after the late David K. Peter, a Micronesian artist and activist who was a staunch supporter of legalization, the bill would be the first within a U.S. jurisdiction to take cannabis from illegal to fully recreational across the board. Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said: “We applaud CNMI legislators for keeping this important legislation alive and moving it forward. Taking marijuana off the illegal market and regulating its production and sale will improve public health and safety.”

A Marijuana Policy Project statement quoted Gerry Hemley, co-founder of Sensible CNMI, as saying: “The true essence of legalization has always been about having safe and legal access to cannabis without fear of arrest and harassment. This thoughtful legislation will control, regulate, and tax marijuana in a manner that is similar to alcohol.”

However, the biggest problem for the soon-to-be CNMI industry is the same one facing legal cannabis businesses everywhere - federal banks want nothing to do with it. The U.S. federal classification of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug has far reaching consequences. For U.S. states and territories like CNMI, it renders legal cannabis businesses as cash-only enterprises, putting severe complications on how revenue is collected, deposited, and dispersed. 

Some of the details of the bill include allowing any adult 21 and over if they have any of a wide range of conditions - including cancer, ptsd, epilepsy, and others. Business licenses cannot be denied on based on previous cannabis convictions as long as they are at least 10 years old. 
The personal possession provisions are also quite generous, allowing up to 12 mature plants and 6 immature per residence. 

This comes at a much needed time for CMNI, who only have 2 viable sources of revenue - tourism and casinos - the latter of which is on the decline. A regulated cannabis industry could bolster the shaky economy by tens of millions within a few years, even with the complexity of navigating a cash-only industry. 

The bill will not become law until it is passed by the Senate, which is projected to do so with an overwhelming majority later this year.