Over the past several years, eight states across the U.S. (and Washington D.C.) have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. Now, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) may become the first U.S. territory to follow suit.
The CNMI Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law held a hearing on Tuesday, October 10th, which will be the first of three hearings on a bill regarding marijuana legalization. The bill would not directly legalize the herb, but allow for the territory’s 18,000 voters to make that decision in the next fall election.
Last year, a similar measure was introduced, but never reached a vote in the Senate. This year a vote has yet to be scheduled – but if it were passed, and signed by Governor Ralph Torres, the vote could come as soon as November 2018.
If approved by voters, residents aged 21 and older would be allowed to legally possess up to four ounces of cannabis, with additional specified amounts for other cannabis products and extracts.
It would also allow for the home cultivation of up to 12 mature plants, and 24 seedlings at a time. Patients with a certification from their doctor would be allowed an even higher limit on home cultivation of the plant.
The bill also determines that a new Cannabis Commission would be created to handle licensing and regulation of the legal cannabis industry. If legalization were passed in November of 2018, the Commission would have the goal to start accepting applications by July of 2019.
“Legalization will not happen by itself. We as a community need to engage the issue proactively if we want this to happen,” Sensible CNMI’s Gerry Palacios Hemley said in a press release. “The time to act is now.”
If CNMI manages to pass this legalization bill – both to the point of seeing a territory-wide vote, and approved by voters to become law – then they would be the first U.S. territory to legalize cannabis for adult use. While they are a small nation, the territory could lead others into making a similar choice – as is being seen as more states move in the direction of legalization as the years go on.
It is because of the progress in the U.S., with 4 more states passing legalization initiatives almost a year ago in the election, that CNMI advocates are optimistic that this year’s bill may have enough support to see a final vote.