Guam's cannabis industry begins creating rules as board meets for first time on Tuesday

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A control board tasked with rolling up regulations for Guam's new cannabis industry will meet for the first time on Tuesday, nearly a month after the island legalized the use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people at least 21 years old.

Legal buying and selling of marijuana on Guam would take place only after the nine-member board comes up with rules no later than April 2020. 

Prior to the meeting, the members of the Cannabis Control Board said they have been reviewing the local law and the laws and regulations in other jurisdictions that legalized recreational marijuana ahead of Guam.

"It is my duty to ensure I am prepared to provide meaningful information that will protect and benefit our community. In order to do that, I have been reading cultivation-related rules and regulations for states that are successfully implementing their systems," Guam Department of Agriculture Director Chelsa Muña-Brecht said.

Muña-Brecht is one of the nine board members, six of whom are automatically appointed to the board by virtue of the government agency they lead, while three were appointed by the governor from the community at large.

Under the law, the board oversees the testing, manufacturing, licensing, packaging and production of marijuana. 

The Agriculture director said she's also reading literature on cannabis agriculture practices that are sustainable and safe for people and ecosystems.

"The Department of Agriculture is ready to proceed with being part of this dynamic administration that will usher in a new, well-regulated, safe, and thriving industry for Guam," she added.

Muña-Brecht said the board will need to explore the role the Department of Agriculture will assume based on the rules and regulations.

"When the community is sufficiently prepared to commence cultivation, the Department will be prepared to provide information and support," she said.

Access and worker protection

William Parkinson, a board member representing medical cannabis patients and the general public, on Monday said the initial meeting is likely to be about getting the board organized, including electing a chairperson and getting to know each member.

"As a cannabis patient advocate, I would like to do everything I can to get products on the shelf as soon as possible, to be able to allow access to medicine," according to Parkinson, who said he obtained his medical cannabis card in January.

A cannabis testing facility is required before the industry could move forward, or before any legal sales could begin, according to Sen. Clynt Ridgell, the main author of the cannabis legalization bill that was signed into law on April 4.

Parkinson, a Democratic senatorial candidate in 2018, said he will also work on ensuring that medical marijuana patients do not risk losing their government job for using cannabis.

"It doesn't make sense that the government gives them access to cannabis, then disqualify them from GovGuam employment. So those are among my goals, access for patients and worker protection," Parkinson said. "To be chosen to serve on this board is a great responsibility."

Parkinson said just like the other members. he's also been reviewing the cannabis regulations in other jurisdictions, looking at what works and what doesn't.

"There are lots of positive findings. Our task is to find the best solution for Guam's unique circumstances," he said.

The governor also appointed attorney Vanessa Williams to represent the general public on the board, as well as herbalist and ChamGlam Botanika owner Ursula Herrera to represent the business community.

Besides the Agriculture director, the others on the board are the heads of the Department of Revenue and Taxation, Guam Police Department, Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services, Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, and Guam Visitors Bureau.

Attorney general guidance

Legalized marijuana comes with limitations. For example, no one can use marijuana in a public place, and driving while using or under the influence of marijuana is illegal.

GovGuam employees and private sector employees are still subject to drug testing and could face termination over marijuana use.

Muña-Brecht said she listened to Attorney General Leevin Camacho's statements during a press conference about enforcement after cannabis legalization bill was signed into law.

"The department fully intends to operate within the parameters of the law. As a member of the Cannabis Board, I will proffer recommendations that are working in successful states and appear less likely to warrant federal intervention," she said.

Muña-Brecht said she understands the goals of the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration for the new economy " and that is what I will use as guidance," she said.

GVB President Pilar Laguaña said the island is entering into a new realm and needs to explore positive opportunities that can be nurtured.

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