Guam Governor Introduces Bill To Legalize, Tax Marijuana
Calvo: Measure to resolve problems with voter-mandated medical marijuana program
By Shawn Raymundo
HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 10, 2017) – Gov. Eddie Calvo on Tuesday introduced a measure to legalize marijuana on island.
“I am introducing this bill, not because I personally support the recreational use of marijuana, but as a solution to the regulatory labyrinth that sprouted from the voter-mandated medical marijuana program,” Calvo said in a press release.
The bill would allow anyone 21 years and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana from licensed distributors. It would also impose a 15-percent sin tax on the sale of the drug. Patients with a medical marijuana card would be exempt from the tax.
Calvo’s measure comes about a month after he first announced his support to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational usage.
Calvo said the government’s anticipated cost to regulate and maintain the medical cannabis program ranges from $8 million to $10 million a year.
“The solution to this problem is to simplify this matter,” Calvo said in the release, adding the bill “will decriminalize the production, sale, distribution and consumption of cannabis, control the industry and tax its sale.”
The revenue from the marijuana sin tax would provide the financial support to sustain Guam’s soon-to-flourish medical marijuana program under the Joaquin KC Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act of 2013, which voters passed in the 2014 election.
The revenue also would finance educational programs and campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles, Calvo said. He also stated that the first $40 million collected would go toward the operations of the Guam Memorial Hospital.
“While eliminating the black market is advantageous, the regulatory nightmare that became the medicinal program would have replaced it with a gray market rife with corruption and cronyism,” Calvo said.
Smoking marijuana in public still would be outlawed under the proposed measure. Anyone found guilty of smoking weed in public would be subject to a fine of $100, the bill states.
Furthermore, the bill doesn’t prevent employers from maintaining drug- and alcohol-free workplaces, according to the bill. It also doesn’t require businesses to accommodate marijuana users, nor would if affect a company’s ability to prohibit employees' use of marijuana.
Calvo also stressed the recreational marijuana bill won’t adversely impact the medical program.
“Patients with the proper credentials will be able to purchase cannabis products according to the rules and regulations of that program,” he said. “The sin tax and age limit we propose for non-medicinal cannabis use will not apply to the medicinal program.”
The rules and regulations to govern the recreational cannabis program would be decided by a Cannabis Control Board, a rule-making authority appointed by the governor.
Grow at home
Although Calvo let the rules and regulations measure for medical cannabis lapse into law, he vetoed its companion bill, which would have allowed qualifying patients and caregivers to grow marijuana in their own homes. Calvo said Bill 344-33 required too much oversight and regulation from the Department of Public Health and Social Services, creating more unfunded mandates for the government.
The governor’s bill, however, includes a home cultivation provision.
Troy Torres, a special policy adviser at Adelup, said the difference is that Calvo’s bill won’t include the same regulatory burdens that Bill 344 called for.
“There isn’t something that inspectors and law enforcement officials should routinely checkup … that was the biggest regulatory nightmare,” Torres said.
Instead, Torres said, the law enforcement aspect would only be necessary when residents contact authorities to report suspicious activity rather than have Public Health keep up on regulations and inspections, which would “become this big bureaucratic nightmare.”
“They may do this without fear of arrest or the burden of taxation so long as they are not selling their harvest without the business license required by law,” Calvo stated. “If a person is suspected and is reported for unlawfully selling cannabis without a business license, criminal penalties will apply if authorities find more than six cannabis plants in the home, among other restrictions.”
If Guam legalizes marijuana, it would join seven other states and the District of Columbia where recreational usage of marijuana is legal. This past election, states such as California and Nevada joined a growing list of areas in the U.S. that have relaxed their laws on the drug.
Tailored to Guam
While the measure was modeled closely after Colorado’s bylaws when its voters passed the referendum legalizing marijuana throughout the state in the 2012 election, it has been “heavily vetted and changed” to meet Guam’s needs, Calvo said.
Discussions with local stakeholders such as Women Grow Guam and Grassroots Guam, led to the changes and reshaping of the measure, Torres explained.
“Legal counsel modeled the first draft to be similar to Colorado’s laws, but working with Women Grow Guam and Grassroots Guam, legal counsel has really tailored this bill to fit Guam,” Torres said.
Women Grow Guam President Andrea Pellacani said that during the meeting to go over the bill, they wanted to focus on the elements that would impact Guam.
“Well it’s been a few years and Colorado has been able to address many of the problems they had with their original bills. ... We tried to get some of those elements personally to us,” she said.
One issue was on-premise consumption, or the possibility of opening cafes, for locals and tourists to smoke in.
"We have tourists come in, so where are they going to go?” Pellacani asked. "I don’t know exactly how they’re going to implement that … How they address it exactly or put into policy, I can’t be sure.”
Denver voted on an initiative this past November to allow marijuana users to smoke at willing bars and restaurants. The city is the first in the nation to approve such an endeavor as the rest of the nation slowly moves toward legislation legalizing pot for medical and recreational use.
According to national news reports, restaurants and bars in Denver would first have to get approval from their neighborhood before obtaining a license to allow marijuana smoking. Indoor smoking won't be allowed, but the law, Proposition 300, could allow for outdoor smoking under certain conditions.
Calvo previously said Guam’s tourism could see a boost from even more Asian tourists interested in smoking weed on island.
Pellacani said the primary concern that was stressed was that the recreational marijuana bill doesn’t interfere with the medical marijuana program.
This Saturday, Grassroots Guam will host a forum, "The Medical Cannabis Patient Workshop," at the Guam Reef Hotel from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The forum is meant to educate the community and potential qualifying patients on what to expect from the implementation of the medical cannabis program.
Under Public Law 220, which lapsed into law on Dec. 17, 2016, Public Health has 30 days from enactment to begin accepting applications from organizations looking to obtain a medical cannabis business license.
As of press time, Public Health Director James Gillan couldn’t be reached for comment regarding the status of the applications.
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