Guam AG Voices Opposition To Legalizing Marijuana

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Rapadas cites gaps in local laws, need for sufficient research

By Louella Losinio

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, Nov. 28, 2013) – At yesterday's legislative public hearing for Bill 215 or The Joaquin Concepcion Compassionate Cannabis Use Act of 2013, Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas said there are complex legal and law enforcement issues that needed to be addressed which are more complex than just legalizing medical marijuana use.

Bill 215 authorizes the use of cannabis in a regulated system for alleviating symptoms caused by debilitating medical conditions and their medical treatments.

The hearing for the measure, introduced by Sen. Tina Muña-Barnes and co-sponsored by Sen. Aline Yamashita, also gathered testimonies and impassioned requests from individuals lobbying for passage of the bill, including the father of Joaquin Concepcion who submitted written testimony in support of the measure.

AG Rapadas presented his concerns to the senators yesterday, emphasizing that he is concerned with the potential abuse of the substance.

But Rapadas added, "I don’t want my testimony to be interpreted here that I am denying a patient with true debilitating medical conditions to choose from other modes of traditional treatment."

The AG said he also wants to ensure that law enforcement voices are heard before any action is taken on Bill 215.

Rapadas centered his testimony on the legal implications of the bill and what he described as a "law enforcement disaster" in Washington and Colorado, the two states that have adopted similar legislation.

Study

Rapadas also cited a study published by the Journal of American Medical Association, which stated that the consequences of unintended marijuana exposure in children should be part of the ongoing debate on the legalization of marijuana.

He said marijuana exposure for infants to 5-year-olds has increased by 200 percent from the 2005 and 2008 period. For the period 2009 to 2012, the increase has been fourfold as far as exposure to kids.

In terms of youth marijuana use, Rapadas said Colorado also registered 27.26 percent in comparison to the national average of 18.7 percent.

Rapadas also looked at the diversion rate of marijuana to and from Colorado to other states. He said seizures from Colorado went from 2,220 lbs. to almost 4,000 lbs., which is about a 77 percent increase during the reporting period.

He said residents and policymakers may want to delay any decisions on this important issue until there is sufficient and accurate data to make informed decisions.

In the case of Washington, Rapadas said the state has seen an increase in violence associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations, or DTOs. There also have been reports of Mexican DTOs developing stronger cannabis strains to remain competitive in the Washington state market.

"I can’t help but assume that Asian DTOs are keeping an eye on the development of this bill," he said.

Decriminalization

Rapadas said Guam statutes essentially decriminalize marijuana possession. But he acknowledged that there is a gap in existing laws which he said the Legislature can also look at.

"For less than an ounce, it is a $100 dollar fine. For more than an ounce, it is a little higher. There is nothing in between. There is no misdemeanor, no third-degree or second-degree felony penalties for levels of marijuana. We go straight up to first degree for distribution or possession with intent to distribute," he said.

Right now, the AG said federal banking regulations also prohibit the deposit of proceeds derived from marijuana sales into federal banks.

"You won’t be able to take proceeds money into banks and deposit them because of these federal regulations despite the fact that the U.S. Attorney General has essentially decriminalized it," he said.

Honor

Joaquin Concepcion, in his written testimony, thanked the bill authors for naming the legislation after his son. He said it is with great honor that his advocacy for great health is recognized.

However, he said, the bill is not about his son.

"And while his short time on Earth and his battle with cancer yielded the courage to convey the importance that this natural herb possessed, his own personal gain with the passage of this bill doesn’t exist. The bill is about our people, the sick, the suffering, the ones who have lost hope because of increasing presence and the aggressiveness of medical challenges in our ever-changing community," he said.

"All of us face this dilemma," he emphasized.

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