Northern Mariana Islands governor signs landmark adult-use cannabis law

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A tiny group of islands in the western Pacific took its place in history Friday when the governor signed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, making it the first U.S. territory to do so.

Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) signed the bill, passed by the territory’s Congress earlier this year, but not without vetoing some aspects of it, the Marianas Variety reported.

The Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 was approved 6-0-2 in the territory’s Senate last week and 18-1-1 in its House on Aug. 8.

Under the new law:

  • It is legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, infused products up to 16 ounces in solid form and 72 ounces in liquid form, and up to 5 grams of marijuana extracts.
  • The government has 30 days to appoint a five-member cannabis commission to serve as the regulatory agency overseeing commercial marijuana and hemp.
  • Within 180 days of the Cannabis Commission’s organizational meeting, the group must adopt rules for the program, which will include six types of regulated marijuana businesses: producers, testing facilities, processors, retailers, wholesalers and lounges.
  • Once licensing regulations are adopted, the commission will begin accepting applications.
  • There will be a 10% excise tax on cannabis grown in the territory.
  • A Homegrown Marijuana Registry will be created, through which adults and patients can register to grow a limited number of marijuana plants (six mature and 12 immature or up to twice that amount in the case of medical need) for personal use.

Gov. Torres did veto some aspects of the bill, including a provision that would have allowed the territory government to vie for a business license and another that set the license fee at $4,500, which the governor said was too low.

CNMI is the first U.S. jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana through its legislature rather than by ballot initiative.