Guam: Vote on recreational marijuana bill expected Wednesday morning

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Guam lawmakers voted to move a measure legalizing recreational marijuana into the voting file Tuesday evening and then adjourned.

They're expected to vote on it Wednesday morning.

Sen. Clynt Ridgell’s controversial Bill No. 32-35 was the subject of amendments heard over three days of debate that began Friday and culminated Tuesday night. Senators on both sides of the issue spoke passionately about their positions.

Voting to end the debate and place the bill in the voting file were Sens. Telo Taitague, Louise Muna, Pedo Terlaje, Amanda Shelton, Kelly Marsh, Regine Biscoe-Lee, Joe San Agustin, and Ridgell.

In his closing remarks Ridgell said his measure was about “freedom of individual choice. That’s what we’re offering here,” he said. “To choose whether you want a substance like alcohol which is responsible for over 88,000 deaths annually ... tobacco which is responsible for even more deaths, or cannabis which is zero deaths annually.”

He expressed frustration over the process saying it has been “mired and riddled in stall tactics” with “frivolous amendments by people who aren’t even going to vote on the measure.”

“We were elected to lead,” said Ridgell. “So I am asking my colleagues to lead, (and vote) yes or no on this measure.”

During her closing remarks Sen. Therese Terlaje asked: “How will it be regulated effectively, despite program after program on Guam that is ineffectively regulated, taxes that are ineffectively collected.”

She motioned to send the bill back to committee “with all the amendments intact for future input from (the Guam Visitors Bureau) and executive branch agencies that will be tasked with upholding and regulating this new industry so that we are not surprised after passage.” Her motion was defeated.

“The prohibition of cannabis has done nothing more than fill our prisons,” Taitague said, and “prohibited us from a safer alternative (to) alcohol.”

Taitague urged lawmakers to look at the industries that oppose recreational cannabis, pointing to the tobacco companies and distillers “whose profits would be hurt” she said.

Sen. Telena Nelson, near tears, spoke about a family member who recently lost his life to drug addiction. “This is not a political issue,” she said, “this is a social issue that is going to impact every single one in our community.”

“We have not done enough to bring the community along,” said Nelson. “We’re not doing anything to educate our people.”

“Ten states and Washington D.C. have legalized adult use,” said Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee “and not a single one has repealed their laws and gone back to prohibition.”

Lee’s proposal to conduct an economic impact study on the legalization of adult use was among the amendments adopted Tuesday.

Another amendment that was passed increased the number of members on the Cannabis Control Board from five to nine by adding representatives from the Guam Visitors Bureau, the Guam Behavioral health and Wellness Center, the Guam Police Department and the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services.

Multiple amendments were made on the division of tax revenues from the sale of cannabis.

One of them would assign half of the 15 percent excise tax on cannabis sales to a Cannabis Regulation Fund. Forty percent of the money in the fund would be allocated to the Department of Revenue and Taxation, 20 percent to DPHSS, 20 percent to GBHWC and 20 percent to the general fund.

Lawmakers also changed their mind on the 10 percent fee on retail sales of cannabis that they adopted Monday. On Tuesday, they reversed that vote and rescinded the fee.

Another amendment that would have imposed penalties on the "unlawful dissemination of cannabis odor” was revised. The word "smoke" was substituted in place of the word “odor” before the amendment was adopted.

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