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Unanimous vote reverses House approval

By Haidee V. Eugenio Reporter SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 20, 2010) – The commonwealth senate rejected yesterday a controversial House bill that seeks to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for medical and recreational use, but the bill's author said he plans to introduce a separate "medical marijuana" legislation.

House Bill 17-47 was killed on a 7-0 vote during a Senate session held at the Northern Marianas College campus on Rota yesterday afternoon.

Sen. Luis Crisostimo (D-Saipan), who supports marijuana use for medical purpose, abstained from voting.

Sen. Henry San Nicolas (Cov-Tinian) was the only one absent among nine senators.

Some 30 Rota students, parents and educators were at the Senate session to drum up opposition against the marijuana bill.

"I know that marijuana can be used for medical purpose if it's done right, if it's legislated right. .At one time alcohol use was outlawed and later on became one of the most profitable commodities," Crisostimo told Saipan Tribune in a phone interview after the bill's resounding defeat.

Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), author of the bill, said yesterday he is disappointed with the defeat of his bill.

"I know they didn't do much research about benefits of marijuana. I am still planning to introduce a medical marijuana bill," he said.

HB 17-47 seeks to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana use for medicinal and other purposes in the CNMI. It allows people at least 21 years old to "possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use."

Senate President Paul Manglona (R-Rota), in a phone interview, said the 7-0 vote shows the strong opposition to the marijuana legislation.

"Even students, parents, teachers testified against the bill," Manglona said, adding that none testified in favor of the legislation.

Rota High School students Mariah Barcinas, Abraham Son Takeshi, Jael Manglona, and Austin Delos Santos testified against the bill, along with Dexter Apatang, president of the Dr. Rita Inos Junior High School's Parent-Teacher Association, Rota High School PTA vice president Marla Barcinas, and Rota High School teacher of CNMI history and U.S. government Elvira Mesngon.

The Senate president reiterated that marijuana puts children at risk, among other ill-effects of allowing marijuana for all purposes.

Manglona said alcohol and cigarette use among the youth is already a big problem, and this will get worse if marijuana use is legalized. Manglona also said there are a lot of ways to generate revenue, including properly enforcing tax laws.

Crisostimo said he will also talk to Torres whether he would really introduce a medical marijuana bill.

"Marijuana is needed for medical purposes. It's one of the best forms of painkillers because it has no side effects. I'm sure if it's medical marijuana bill, it will pass the Senate. The governor stated on record he supports medical marijuana bill," the senator said.

Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota) said she is "elated" with the Senate's rejection of the controversial marijuana bill "as it would do more harm than good for our children, future generations and Commonwealth, not to mention the millions of federal funds that may be jeopardized if such bill becomes a public law."

"The detrimental effects of marijuana and the fear of losing millions of federal funds were substantiated or collaborated by those who provided testimonies from the general public including that of PSS, CHC, Dare Program under the DPS. Thus, we cannot afford to lose what is already given versus what is not, as an old saying goes, 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,' or compromise the health, welfare and education of our children today and in the future," Santos said.

During yesterday's session, Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan) also asked students whether they are in support of legalizing marijuana use, to which they said "no," said Manglona.

Torres' marijuana bill has been drawing opposing views from community members. Those who oppose it say its enactment into law will result in the loss of millions of dollars in federal money and will increase crimes. Those supporting it say there has been no proof that this bill will really result in federal money pulled out from the CNMI and that marijuana's medicinal qualities will be a big help to residents.

Torres said legalizing marijuana use in the CNMI will also boost tourist arrivals on the islands. This is the first time that legislation has been introduced in the CNMI legalizing marijuana.

HB 17-47, HS1 or the Legalization, Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Act of 2010 permits the regulation and taxation of the commercial production and sale of marijuana to people at least 21 years old.

The bill, however, prohibits possession of marijuana on school grounds and prohibits its use in the presence of minors.

Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug and is illegal to use and possess.

But Torres said there are already 15 states in the U.S. that have legalized marijuana for medical use.

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