Support in Guam for Relaxing Cannabis Restrictions
A public hearing held Monday, March 11, by the Guam legislature saw support for a bill that would make it easier to set up cannabis testing lab in the US territory.
Bill 34-35, introduced by Senator Clynton Ridgell, would amend previous legislation by removing the residency requirements for people or organizations applying for a cannabis testing laboratory license.
Under present law, applicants for a medicinal cannabis license are required to prove that at least 51 percent of the business in question is owned by a legal resident of Guam who has lived on the island continuously for at least three years prior to applying for the license. Sen. Ridgell’s bill would completely remove this residency requirement for people or groups who are applying for cannabis testing licenses and shorten the term of residency from three years down to one year for all other cannabis license applications.
It is hoped that this change could bring foreign investment and testing businesses to Guam, which has so far been unsuccessful in launching its medical cannabis program with only local assistance.
A slow start for medical marijuana
Guam voted to legalize medicinal marijuana back in 2014, but a lack of suitable rules and regulations for the industry dramatically slowed the implementation process of a proper medical cannabis program. As of 2019, the necessary regulatory structure appears to have been put in place, but the lack of a licensed cannabis testing lab has left the program in limbo, as medical cannabis cannot go-ahead unless a fully operational licensed testing facility is present.
Director Linda Unpingco DeNorcey, of the Department of Public Health and Social Services, told the Pacific Daily News that under the present conditions, only one person had picked up an application for a cannabis laboratory license. She also revealed that the department never received the submission of a completed application from that individual. On this basis, she voiced supported Sen. Ridgell’s bill as a way to move Guam’s medical cannabis program forward.
Jonathan Savares, a US Army combat veteran, medical marijuana advocate, and one of Guam’s few certified medical marijuana patients, praised Sen. Ridgell’s proposed licensing amendment at the public hearing.
"We would love to see it [the medical cannabis industry] stay local, but at this point in time it’s been four years and no local entity has stood up to make moves,” said Savares. "Ultimately, what it came down to is Guam has to step up and do this or we have to find somebody who will.”
The public hearing of Sen. Ridgell’s bill was done as a part of its referral to the Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture, Maritime Transportation, Power and Energy Utilities, and Emergency Response. With the tone of the public hearing largely in support of the bill, it is very likely that it will pass through the committee stage smoothly and be given to I Liheslaturan Guåhan (the Legislature of Guam, in English) in full session for a second reading and further discussion.
If it is approved at the end of this second reading and subsequent third reading and vote, then I Maga'lahen Guåhan (the Governor of Guam) will be given the power to sign the bill into law, effective immediately.
Public hearing for recreational cannabis bill shows mixed reactions
Only days before the public hearing on Sen. Ridgell’s cannabis licensing amendment bill, another public hearing on cannabis law took place, this time focusing on a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Guam.
The proposed Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019, on which Sen. Ridgell is also a cosponsor, would legalize the sale, use, and commercial manufacture of cannabis and cannabis products in Guam for recreational purposes.
Unlike the public hearing for Bill 34-35, response to the legalization measure was more mixed. Opponents of the measure urged the legislature to proceed cautiously; one high school teacher spoke of students she knew were performing badly at school because of their marijuana use, and questioned whether the economic advantages of legalizing recreational cannabis use would be enough to adequately address the negative effects that drug use could have on the youth population.
Going further, Bill Cundiff, the President of the US Air Force Veterans Association, voiced his strong opposition to the measure at the hearing, saying that legalization could create more liability for the government. He also informed the legislature that he had sent a letter to the US Department of Justice enquiring about the legality of the bill if it were to be challenged in federal court, and promised those present at the hearing that if the response indicated the bill could go against federal law, Cundiff would be the first in line to file a legal challenge against the bill.
“There is no study about how it is going to affect Guam. All we talk about is how it affects everybody. Take the time, do not rush, and study what the impact of this law would be to this island,” Cundiff warned.
Supporters of the move gave an impassioned defense of the proposed bill. Several certified medical marijuana patients, including Jonathan Savares, read statements supporting the bill as they believe the bill could also go some ways towards improving the support available to certified medical cannabis patients and those who wish to use cannabis to control health problems.
“I would like to thank you for the introduction of this bill. It brings us closer to getting people medicine,” said Savares at the hearing. “As long as we place patients first and always place patients in our hearts, we will win.”
Presently, if this bill were to make it out of committee and through all the necessary subsequent legislative hurdles to becoming a law, it would still face the same issue as the approved medical marijuana bill: a lack of licensed testing facility. With no signs of renewed local interest in setting up such a facility, the hopes of future cannabis law reform in Guam are pinned on the passage of Bill 34-35 and the foreign investors who might kickstart Guam’s cannabis industry.