August 10, 2018,
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is one of the two insular territories of the United States. It is a string of 15 islands at the westernmost side of the country and separated from the golden state by nearly 6,000 miles of open Pacific Ocean. This US commonwealth with a population just over 50,000 is going to accomplish something that no mainland territory has ever done. The islands will be the first US territory to go from absolute prohibition to blanket legalization of cannabis.
18 out of 20 CNMI legislators voted on Wednesday in favor of the bill that entails the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. And not only that, the bill would also legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp. The islands are going to make history in cannabis legalization if Gov. Ralph Torres ratifies the bill.
It is worth mentioning that this was not the first attempt made by CNMI’s legislature to legalize marijuana. Only two months ago, the islands’ Senate approved a similar piece of legislation which flunked due to procedural issues. After this false start, the CNMI’s House chose to file its own legalization bill. Within a week, the bill managed to get the vote of approval from both chambers of the legislature.
The language of the bill and how it has been passed distinguishes CNMI from the nine US states where recreational cannabis has been legalized. For instance, except for Vermont, no legal state has legalized marijuana through legislative route. The public ballot has been used in every state to approve the legalization initiative.
In addition, CNMI’s legislative bill also talks about the establishment of a retail market. This is another provision that won’t be found in most of the marijuana legalization bills. Every state that has legalized recreational cannabis did so after setting up a medical marijuana program. On the other hand, CNMI will make history by legalizing medical and recreational cannabis at the same time.
Even though CNMI is separated from the continental US by a tremendous distance, the islands have been keeping a close eye on cannabis reforms on the mainland. In fact, the bill has succeeded in getting overwhelming support from the legislature because CNMI lawmakers have acknowledged the benefits of legalization with practical examples of various legal states. The full text of the bill even mentions how regulated cannabis markets in legal states have helped in improving the index of safety, public health, and quality of life in general.
The bill also cites social benefits of legalization like reduction in opioid-related deaths and decreased crime rates and therapeutic benefits like treatment of epilepsy, PTSD, and chronic pain. Economic implications such as job growth and increased tax revenues are also discussed in the bill.
Gov. Torres has some reservations regarding the bill. He is wary of possible public safety issues and increased crime rate following the legalization. Whether Torres approves or vetoes the bill, voters have shown where they stand. Public hearings on the legalization bill had higher attendance than any other such session.