Northern Mariana Islands Is 1st U.S. Territory To Legalize Marijuana (Cannabis)

by Kim Boateng Posted on September 22nd, 2018

Houston, Texas, USA : Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has become the first U.S. territory to legalize and regulate marijuana (cannabis) for adult use after Governor Ralph DLG. Torres signed H.B. 20-178 into law on Friday. It is also the first U.S. jurisdiction to do so through its legislature, rather than via ballot initiative.

H.B. 20-178, titled the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018, was approved 6-0-2 in the Senate last week and 18-1-1 in the House on August 8.

Under the law:

  • It is now legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess limited amounts of marijuana (one ounce), marijuana-infused products (16 ounces in solid form, 72 ounces in liquid form), and marijuana extracts (five grams).
  • Within 30 days of the bill being signed, a five-member CNMI Cannabis Commission must be appointed to serve as the regulatory agency overseeing commercial marijuana and hemp.
  • A Homegrown Marijuana Registry will be created, through which adults and patients can register to grow a limited number of marijuana plants (six mature and 12 immature or up to twice that amount in the case of medical need) for personal use. If the registry is not created within 120 days of the Cannabis Commission’s organizational meeting, adults can grow cannabis without registering until it is available.
  • Within 180 days of the Cannabis Commission’s organizational meeting, it must prescribe forms and adopt rules for the program, which will include six types of regulated marijuana businesses: producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers, and lounges. Once licensing regulations are adopted, the commission shall begin accepting applications and may not unreasonably delay processing, approval, or rejection of applications.
  • A 10 percent ad valorem excise tax will be imposed on cannabis grown in the commonwealth.

Laws legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use have been adopted by voters in eight states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Lawmakers in Vermont and voters in D.C. have adopted laws that make marijuana possession and cultivation legal for adults, but they do not regulate commercial production or sales.

Statement from Lawerence Duponcheel, co-founder of Sensible CNMI:

“We are proud of our governor and the Legislature for ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition in the Northern Marianas and adopting a more sensible system of regulation. We look forward to working with lawmakers, the Cannabis Commission, and other stakeholders to implement this legislation swiftly and responsibly.”

Statement from Gerry Hemley, co-founder of Sensible CNMI:

“The true essence of legalization has always been about the freedom of choice, to use cannabis, without fear of arrest and harassment. It is incredibly satisfying to know that adults and medical patients in CNMI will no longer be punished for consuming cannabis, and by this time next year, they will have safe, legal, and reliable access to it.”

Statement from Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project:

“We applaud the governor, the lawmakers, and the advocates of the Northern Mariana Islands for this historic accomplishment. Major policy changes do not come easy, especially when it means seeing past decades of propaganda. The work is not done yet, and we hope officials will continue to take a thoughtful and evidence-based approach to implementing this new regulatory system. Hopefully lawmakers throughout the U.S. will take notice and look to CNMI as an example for how to end prohibition and establish an effective marijuana regulatory system.”

In a signing statement  (see below), Torres expressed public health concerns and suggested he is expecting an additional bill. “We will ensure that this industry will be properly regulated and enforced. We want to do this the right way, and I also expect the Legislature to send me a companion bill that outlines my recommendations to strengthen this bill for our community’s public safety and public health.”

Signing Statement – Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act Of 2018

“Today, our people made history. We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use.

From the hard work of our Legislature going out and conducting numerous public hearings on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to the overwhelming support from members of our community, it is only fitting that I sign this bill into law in the best interest of our people, especially those suffering from debilitating illnesses and for our island economy.

Now, I want to advise the Commonwealth that it is not legal to use marijuana yet. We have 30 days to set up our Cannabis Commission by appointing members from Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and the Northern Islands, and our local legislative delegations would need to confirm them within 30 days. Then, our commission have 180 days to create the regulations and promulgate them. The regulations take into effect 10 days after adoption and publication with our Commonwealth Register.

We will ensure that this industry will be properly regulated and enforced. We want to do this the right way, and I also expect the Legislature to send me a companion bill that outlines my recommendations to strengthen this bill for our community’s public safety and public health.

I want to thank our Legislature, especially the authors Senator Sixto K. Igisomar and Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, our advocates, and everyone in our community for sharing their concerns and helping us realize this historic day for the people that call these islands home.

– Governor Ralph DLG. Torres”

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