Medical Marijuana Implementation Delays Frustrate Guam Senator

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Barnes plans to call for decriminalization if patients can’t get access

By Shawn Raymundo

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 14, 2016) – Further delays to the implementation of Guam’s medical marijuana program, approved by voters in 2014, could potentially lead to the decriminalization of pot for all people with certain debilitating medical conditions.

If the medical program continues to stall, Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said she would consider legislation to prevent those with a doctor’s recommendation from being prosecuted for possession of marijuana. She also is considering legislation to allow people with certain debilitating conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma and epilepsy, to grow the drug at home.

Such a measure essentially bypasses the rules and regulations the Department of Public Health and Social Services has been working on since Guam voters approved the medical marijuana initiative in the 2014 General Election.

Difficulty in getting the rules and regulations in place has prompted Barnes to review alternatives to expedite the intent of the medical marijuana program.

"What’s stopping us right now is the rules and regulations moving forward," she said. "Until that gets done, we’ve got to look at alternatives to give our patients that opportunity to utilize cannabis today."

Because Barnes’ measure intends to bypass the medical marijuana program, there won’t be any medical cannabis producers on island yet to supply the drug. Users would have to acquire their weed through the black market, purchasing it from dealers. Her office noted that while it does not intend for the person providing the drug to patients to be prosecuted either, the senator would have to work that gray area out in the bill.

The Office of the Attorney General has been reviewing Public Health’s proposed rules since October. Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson announced in late December that her office needed more time to review it, as the work required "a greater degree of legal scrutiny to ensure these rules comport with the Act and are legally sound."

Carlina Charfauros, the attorney general’s spokesperson, said the review is still being conducted.

"A lot of work has been accomplished," she said. "We are hopeful of completing our review soon."

Before moving forward with her alternative plan, Barnes said, she will speak with Barrett-Anderson about the rules and regulations.

"Based on those discussions, I’ll decide," she said. "Because we do know that there are some hurdles."

Public Health Director James Gillan, who is remaining patient during the review process, said the attorney general is "providing invaluable assistance" by amending the proposal’s language as well as removing "redundancies and inconsistencies."

"I understand Sen. Barnes has a constituency that she has to respond to, but I believe our way is the best way in the long run," he said.

Regarding Barnes’ suggestion on home cultivation for medical marijuana users, Gillan raised a concern about fairness when it comes to those who can’t smoke the product. He also noted a potential safety issue with the product.

"Allowing for home grown for medical needs sounds tempting, but what about those who cannot tolerate smoked product," Gillan said. "And what about laboratory services to ensure delivered products are safe?"

The law, as a result of the passage of the referendum, was to take effect 90 days after the elections results were certified, which happened that November, news files state. After the measure’s enactment, Public Health would have had no more than nine months before the regulations had to take effect.

Last summer, Public Health unveiled the draft proposal of regulations to the community and hosted a three-day hearing for the island’s residents to weigh in on it. During the hearings, several citizens, including prospective medical marijuana producers, criticized the suggested application fees.

The 151-page draft proposed that applicants of marijuana dispensary and cultivation sites pay a $35,000 application fee, according to news files. Applicants, under the proposed draft, were also to renew their licenses annually at $35,000 each.

Public Health officials previously stated that the proposed regulations were revised prior to being submitted to the AG’s offices, however, they couldn’t go into detail about changes made to the application fees.

Reporter Jerick Sablan contributed to this report.

Debilitating conditions

Draft Rules and Regulations Governing the Joaquin (KC) Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act of 2013

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