Medical Marijuana Could Bring Guam $90 Million In Revenue

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UoG hold forum on legalization of medical marijuana

By Maria Hernandez

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 26, 2015) – James Gillan, director of the island's health department, said approximately 3,000 patients could qualify for medical marijuana.

Each patient could qualify for up to 5 ounces of medicinal marijuana per month, with $500 as the proposed cost per ounce, he said.

The projected revenue generated on that basis in a year's span is about $90 million, Gillan said.

Gillan made the comments yesterday at a medical marijuana policy forum hosted by University of Guam students to discuss the draft rules and regulations for the island's medical marijuana program.

"This forum was purely informational," forum chairwoman Tasha Wade said. "We just wanted to spread public awareness."

Wade is among students at the university who are part of an administrative law class in the school's Master of Public Administration Program.

The forum included panelists that represented different agencies within the government of Guam.

Gillan, director of the Department of Public Health and Social Services, was one of six panel members in attendance at the forum.

Public Health is the lead agency tasked with developing guidelines and regulations under the law. The agency has less than five months to submit rules and regulations to the Guam Legislature.

Also in attendance were Stephanie Flores, chief of staff for Sen. Tina Muña Barnes; Andrew Andrus, executive director of The Employers Council; Fred Bordallo, Guam Police Department chief of police; Dr. Laura Post, a specialist in psychiatry who sits on the medical marijuana advisory board; and Matthew Sablan, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture.

Gillan said a 133-page draft of the rules and regulations was approved and distributed to the medical marijuana advisory board Friday.

Gillan declined to provide the Pacific Daily News with a copy of the draft yesterday.

He said a lot of the draft relied on many of the same rules and regulations used in Arizona, where medical marijuana has been legal for many years.

Arizona was chosen because the state "has a good track record; they've made money, they do not have an onerous bureaucratic structure, they keep it as simple as possible and that's what we're trying to do," Gillan said.

Additionally, Gillan said the state's health services department is willing to provide its online programming and source code for free.

Public Health will send two people from its Division of Environmental Health to Arizona early next month to assess its program and provide feedback for the draft rules and regulations, Gillan said.

He said the department completed a survey of the island's three major insurance companies, as well as Medicaid and the Medically Indigent Program to determine that approximately 3,000 patients could qualify for medicinal marijuana.

The revenue generated in year's span is about $90 million, Gillan said.

"There are a lot of good things that can come out of this money and there are a lot of bad things that can come out of this money," he said.

He stressed the need to ensure the medicinal marijuana was properly regulated and that the product does not "get out in the streets."

He said public hearings will be held soon to discuss the draft rules and regulations and for the advisory board to receive public input.

"We will have a series of public hearings," Gillan said. "We want as much input as possible. We want to get this thing right."

He said the development of the rules and regulations is still in the early stages.

"We still have a lot of work. And we have a lot of stakeholders we have to get involved in this before we even have our administrative adjudication public hearings," he said.

Panel members answered a number of questions at the forum.

In response to a question about whether individuals would be able to grow medicinal marijuana at home, Gillan responded by saying there will be no home cultivation.

As for the number of licenses that will be issued for dispensaries, Flores said it's too early to tell.

Gillan added, "The way we look at it now, there's not going to be one in every village."

Gillan previously told the Pacific Daily News that Guam's medical marijuana supply could come from three suppliers and most likely will be dispensed from secure warehouses.

He said the agency is considering allowing three dispensaries, for the northern, central and southern parts of Guam, but said the number could change as the rules and regulations become clear.

Attendees also asked if employers would be required or encouraged to provide reasonable accommodations for marijuana users.

Andrus said if an employee has a disability, employers are expected to speak with the employee to see if they require accommodation. However, he said because marijuana is illegal, the product cannot be condoned in the workplace.

"We cannot condone the use of illegal drugs," he said. "Sorry, that's the way it is."

In response to the same question, Post argued that many people with chronic pain presently take opiates and could be impaired by doing so.

"If they're impaired, that's the problem," she said. "But if they're not abusing it in an addictive way, there isn't really an issue. We need to take into consideration that it's meant to be medicine and we're not talking about creating a population of addicts who are going to come into the workplace and sell weed."

She said that is a discussion that faces the advisory board in the future.

"I'm sure we're going to be disagreeing on points like this," Post said.

Also discussed was how the medical marijuana would be dispensed -- whether it will be a consumable product or if patients would smoke it.

"It's going to be a medical decision how effective molecules of the marijuana get into the system," she said.

She said smoking the product could be harmful for individuals who have never smoked.

"This is meant to be a helpful product, not a harmful one," Post said.

Post added that she visited a dispensary in Colorado that included edibles in the form of candy bars, mints, lollipops, brownies and cookies.

"Each one had a certain amount of THC in it," she said. "How that's going to be determined, how much it (will cost) and how the edibles are made -- we still need to figure that out."

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