Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) signed groundbreaking legislation on Friday, legalizing the recreational use of cannabis for the small United States territory. The Northern Mariana Islands is a small group of islands in the Pacific Ocean with a population of just over 55,000.
Torres held a signing ceremony for his approval of H.B. 20-178, the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018. The legislation was approved by the territorial Senate last week by a vote of 6-0-2 and cleared the House 108-1-1 in August.
“Today, our people made history. We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use,” Torres said in a statement.
The law legalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of cannabis extracts for adults 21 and older. Possession of up to 16 ounces of cannabis-infused products in solid form and up to 72 ounces in liquid form was also legalized. Adults can also register to grow up to six mature and 12 immature plants for personal use. Medical marijuana patients are allowed to grow twice as many plants.
The law will also allow the commercial production and sale of cannabis. A CNMI Cannabis Commission must be appointed within 30 days to regulate the program. After it is formed, the commission will have 180 days to create and adopt rules for the program. Six license types will be issued including producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers, and lounges. Applications for licenses will be accepted once the regulations have been adopted and may not be unreasonably delayed or rejected.
The CNMI is the first United States jurisdiction to legalize recreational cannabis sales. All states that have done so have used the voter initiative process. The Vermont state legislature legalized possession of recreational marijuana, but not sales.
Lawerence Duponcheel, the co-founder of Sensible CNMI, the group that sponsored the legalization bill, said in a press release from the Marijuana Policy Project that it was time for a change in cannabis policy.
“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,” Duponcheel said. “We look forward to working with lawmakers, the Cannabis Commission, and other stakeholders to implement this legislation swiftly and responsibly.”
Karen O’Keefe, the director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, noted that other U.S. jurisdictions now have a model for recreational cannabis legislation.
“We applaud the governor, the lawmakers, and the advocates of the Northern Mariana Islands for this historic accomplishment,” O’Keefe said. “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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