The tiny US territory known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CMNI) just took a big step toward ending marijuana prohibition.
Lawmakers in the CMNI House of Representatives have overwhelmingly passed a big piece of cannabis legislation. With a margin of 18–1 the new bill would create a legal framework for the sale and purchase of recreational cannabis in the Pacific islands, which lie just north of Guam.
"The people of the CNMI recognize that the prohibition of marijuana has been terribly misguided and harmful, and our leaders are in touch with the public's sentiment on this issue," Lawrence Duponcheel of Sensible CNMI said in a statement. "Today, members of the CNMI House of Representatives showed their commitment to honoring the will of the people."
The impending law change in the CMNI is significant for a couple of reasons. First, the CMNI is set to become the first US jurisdiction to jump right in to the recreational market. They have no existing medical marijuana legislation, something that has been a precursor to recreational legalization in every state that has repealed prohibition. The CMNI will be introducing their recreational and medical markets at the same time, as well as establishing an industrial hemp industry.
Second, if the Mariana Islands adopt legalization, they will become the first US territory to repeal cannabis prohibition.
"The lawmakers and people of CNMI are on track to make history, and more U.S. policymakers would be wise to take notice before the upcoming midterm elections," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment.
The bill now heads to the Senate for further approval. A similar measure was previously passed by the Senate back in May but was halted because any revenue-generating legislation has to begin in the House. As such it is expected that the Senate will likewise pass the new legislation as well.
However, the CMNI Governor Ralph Torres (R) has expressed some concern about legalization, saying that he is "concerned about public safety issues." He has not yet made any indications of whether or not he would veto the bill if passed by the Senate.
So we'll have to see if this is history in the making or just another baby-step toward progress.