Northern Mariana Islands Legalizes Cannabis, Makes History

CNMI flagOn September 21, 2018, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) became the first U.S. territory to legalize adult use cannabis through legislative action rather than a public ballot vote. Considering this group of small islands in the Pacific has a Republican-controlled congress and governor, Medicine Man Technologies was surprised to see such sweeping and progressive reform.

Governor Ralph Torres, signed the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 into law after the Senate passed it 6-0-2 and the House approved it 18-1-1. He stated, “Today, our people made history. We took a stand to legalize marijuana in the CNMI for recreational, medical, and commercial use.”

The governor’s sign-off comes just months after he raised concerns about how legalization would affect public safety, requesting a look at crime rates in states where cannabis had been legalized. Fortunately, available data for such states actually shows a decrease in violent crime which likely placated his fears.

What’s Included in the New CNMI Law

Now, a 5-person Cannabis Commission must be established to act as the regulatory agency for cannabis and hemp. It’s main duty in the first 180 days will be establishing and implementing new rules, as well as licensing six types of cannabis businesses: production, processing, testing facilities, wholesale, retail and lounges. While it will take time to establish the CNMI market, let’s take a look at a few highlights.

Adults 21 Years of Age and Older:
  • May possess and transport up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 16 ounces of infused products in solid form or 72 ounces in liquid form, and 5 grams of extracts.
  • Except for medical cannabis, may not possess or use in a government building or on federal property, on any school or college property (except for research), or at an establishment that is allowed to serve alcohol.
  • Registering with the Homegrown Marijuana Registry for adults, patients and caregivers will be required. However, if it’s not created with 120 days of the Cannabis Commission’s organizational meeting, adults may start growing (6 mature, 12 immature plants) and register once available.
  • Medical marijuana will require a physician’s recommendation and one qualifying condition such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy and many more.
  • Consuming cannabis in public or in the presence of anyone under the age of 21 is prohibited and may garner a first-time fine of $250 and $1,000 for further violations.
  • Consuming while driving (including boats and other modes of transport), underage possession, importing/exporting, and excess possession are subject to various fines and/or imprisonment.
For Cannabis-Related Businesses:
  • Applicants for licenses must have continued residency in the CNMI for 10+ years unless they were away due to educational training or military service.
  • May not be located within 500 feet of a church, school building, hospital, clinic or youth center.
  • Only producers and micro-producers (25 plants or less) may possess and sell mature plants.
  • An individual may apply for and hold multiple licenses – however, you may only hold one micro-producer and one testing license at any given time.
  • All applications must be submitted with a $250 processing fee. Licenses for micro-producers are $250. For all other businesses, it was originally $4,500 but Gov. Torres vetoed this provision and requested that it be set higher.
  • There will be a 10% ad valorem tax on cannabis grown in the commonwealth. Taxes and fees for producers, and an excise tax for retailers will be enacted at a later date.

Once the Cannabis Commission convenes for its organizational meeting, there will be a 180-day timeline to begin implementing the new program in the CNMI. Fortunately, the detailed rules already outlined in the approved bill provide a great head start, and Medicine Man Technologies is confident that residents will soon have access to the medicines they need, as well as be able to freely enjoy adult-use cannabis.

If you wish to start your own legal enterprise in the U.S. or anywhere across the globe, please contact us for private consulting, as well as help with licensing, cultivating, dispensary operations and more.

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