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Gov. Torres Signs Bill Making Northern Mariana Islands the First U.S. Territory to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana for Adult Use

Possession of limited amounts of marijuana is now legal for adults 21 and older; home-growing will be legal within four months and regulated sales are expected to begin next year

Statements below from Sensible CNMI, which advocated for the legislation, and the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization

Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres signed H.B. 20-178 into law Friday, making the Northern Mariana Islands the first U.S. territory to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use. 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. A detailed overview of the legislation is available on the Marijuana Policy Project’s website. 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.”

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The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. It has been a leading advocate for federal marijuana policy reform since it was founded in 1995, and it has spearheaded most of the major state-level reforms that have occurred over the past two decades. For more information, visit https://www.MPP.org.

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Richard Lowe

Richard Lowe is a 14-year veteran of the financial sector with licenses as a commodity broker (Series 3) and investment advisor representative (IAR Series 65). Along with a focus on raising capital for the firms he was employed with, he also wrote and edited much of the content published by them. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts. He has been a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization due to the social injustices associated with marijuana prohibition and the strong potential for the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

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