U.S. Territory on Its Way to Legalizing Marijuana

Eight U.S. states have already legalized marijuana, and many people believe more are on their way. But one area people have neglected in legalization discussions is U.S. territories. Could they be on their way to allowing recreational cannabis? Well, in one territory at least, the answer is yes.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a U.S. territory just north of Guam and east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean.  A CNMI senate committee is holding a hearing today to determine whether or not the territory should allow recreational marijuana. 

The actual bill itself will not legalize marijuana. Instead, if the CNMI senate approves the proposal and it's sign by the governor, then next fall the territory's 18,000 voters will be able to vote on whether or not to legalize the drug. Today's hearing will also not be the actual vote on the bill. There are three public hearings scheduled for later this month, and there is no scheduled date for an actual vote.

A similar measure to legalize marijuana in the CNMI failed last year after the senate refused to vote on the bill. But considering more states legalized marijuana in the past year, there could be increased support for the measure. 

No other U.S. territory has legalized marijuana, meaning if the CNMI passed this measure, it would be groundbreaking. The question is also what response the federal government would have towards this vote. While various laws and court decisions have established the rights of states to pass their own laws without federal intervention, would those same rights be afforded to U.S. territories? Washington D.C. has legalized marijuana, but it has a different legal designation than other non-state U.S. territories. The CNMI may be small, but passing marijuana legalization could lead to similar efforts in larger territories.


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