Introduction Of Medical Marijuana In Guam On Hold

GovGuam tells potential cultivator they are not prepared to issue licenses

By Shawn Raymundo 

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 17, 2017) – After several weeks of preparing to apply for a medical marijuana cultivation license, Marcus Cepeda, a local businessman, was told by government officials in February that GovGuam wasn’t prepared to issue permits yet.

“The government needed more time, they weren’t prepared,” Cepeda told the Legislature’s Committee on Adjudication during last week’s public hearing on a bill to legalize marijuana.

Cepeda said he'd spent weeks consulting with a professional in Colorado to learn the nuances of growing marijuana and running a cultivation site. He then spent a couple more weeks developing his business plan and meeting with investors.

“We had business partners, we had capital of about $300,000 ready to invest in this business,” Cepeda said. “All the work I did ... pretty much went down the drain.”

One of his business partners, Cepeda said, had even put a down payment on a warehouse for the prospective business, which was to be called Homegrown Guam. Luckily, his business partner was able to recover the down payment when the deal was canceled.

Delay after delay

Since voters approved the Joaquin KC Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act in November 2014, Guam’s medical marijuana program has been plagued with delays.

Although lawmakers in December passed legislation officially approving the implementation of the program, certain provisions have created more bureaucratic setbacks, according Department of Public Health and Social Services Director James Gillan.

“The problem with this law is that it really is probably the most illogical piece of legislation I’ve ever read,” Gillan said. “One part of the law says we have to start accepting applications and another part says we need to have regulations in place. You can’t have both at the same time.”

The measure, which Gov. Eddie Calvo had let lapse into law, mandated Public Health to begin accepting applications for marijuana businesses licenses within 30 days of enactment. It also stipulated the creation of a Medical Cannabis Regulation Commission, which is where the current setback stems from.

The commission is to comprise 11 members including Gillan, or his designee, as well as the heads of the agricultural department, legislative health committee, Guam Environmental Protection Agency and Board of Medical Examiners, or their designees.

Gillan said several members have yet to respond to his requests for a meeting, such as Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr., the chairman to the Legislature's Committee on Health.

Rodriguez wasn't available for comment as of press time.

No laboratory

One of the responsibilities of the commission, Gillan continued, is to approve a set of standards for a medical marijuana laboratory, charged with examining Guam’s medicinal cannabis before being sold.

"There really can’t be anyone who is really seriously thinking about (business licenses) until there is a certified laboratory," Gillan said. "People have inquired about this, but no one has applied for it yet because there is no rules and regulations.”

Gillan said he hopes to have the board finally meet by the middle of next month.

“I am in complete support of marijuana as medicine,” he said. "But I want to do it in a way where we don’t have lawsuits in place.”

Return on investment

As for the fate of Cepeda’s Homegrown Guam, the businessman said he was told the government should be ready by mid-summer to begin handing out licenses. But after giving it more thought, he doesn’t believe he and his partners would ever make their investments back.

“My point of view now is that I don’t feel confident that a business owner can have a return on investment unless there is recreational cannabis, because there’s just not enough people here on Guam,” Cepeda said. “The population is very small and the way the conditions are set up with medical cannabis, it’s for large area populations like Colorado and California.”

In light of comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that the federal government would begin enforcing laws on states where weed has been legalized, Calvo suspended support for his bill to legalize marijuana.

“The federal landscape is changing and the Justice Department could reverse its policy on allowing states (and territories) the autonomy to decide on adult-use marijuana,” Oyaol Ngirairikl, Adelup director of communications, said in an email. “We don’t want to put the people of Guam in a position where they are directly at odds with the Justice Department. Passing a new law without fully understanding the risks could subject to our people facing criminal prosecution.”

Home cultivation

Separate legislation to allow qualified medical marijuana patients to grow the drug inside their own home passed in the Legislature in December, but Calvo vetoed it, believing it required too much oversight and regulation.

When asked if the governor would now consider a new home cultivation bill, one with fewer regulations, Ngirairikl said Adelup would look such a measure.

“In the meanwhile, yes we also do want to look at home-cultivation legislation to augment what is currently law with the Compassionate Act,” she wrote. “We don’t want to deprive people who need it for their therapeutic relief.”

Pacific Daily News
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