We talk a lot about the 50 standard US states and where they stand on recreational marijuana policy. But the US includes more than just 50 states, and of the territories included in the repertoire of US properties, Guam legalized recreational marijuana first. Now, in order to iron out the wrinkles of regulation, Guam is asking its citizens for help!
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A little about Guam
Guam is an island located in the North Pacific Ocean which is considered an unincorporated territory. We’re all familiar with the fact that Guam is not actually part of the United States, but most of us are aware that its somehow related. The US has different territories that it governs, but not in the exact same way as the standard 50. An unincorporated territory is “A United States insular area in which the United States Congress has determined that only selected parts of the United States Constitution apply.”
Guam is governed under the Organic Act of Guam, which was established by Congress and the president on August 1st, 1950. While the act made Guam natives into US citizens, they don’t have the ability to vote in national elections. A 1968 amendment to the Act allows for local elections for a governor. Guam is also able to elect a delegate to the US House of Representatives in two-year terms, however with limited voting rights that impede the ability to vote on the final passage of legislation.
Guam is about 5,800 miles off the coast of San Francisco, and its capital city is Hagåtña, or Agana. Natives of Guam are generally of Malaysian and Indonesian decent, with a good mix of Filipino, Mexican, Spanish, and European and Asian ancestry thrown in.
Guam has multiple US military facilities housed on its premises, in particular Anderson Air Force Base. While agriculture and fishing are big industries on the Island, work on the military bases has also provided much income to locals. Tourism is also a very prominent part of the economy.
Guam has a small population numbering approximately 168,000.
Guam and cannabis
Like most places around the world, Guam spent most of the 20th century with laws illegalizing cannabis use on all levels. However, by 2014, things were starting to change. In November 2014, Guam citizens voted on a referendum measure to legalize medicinal marijuana. The measure – Joaquin KC Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act – passed with 56% of the vote. This, as per the usual, did not result in immediate action, and in the following years there were many set-backs. The law was officially signed in 2015, and in 2017 there were still issues that kept it from being used. Now, however, the territory has an operational program for using cannabis for debilitative sicknesses.
In a strange turnaround, a month after Governor Eddie Calvo put a veto on a measure of the medical marijuana law that would allow home cultivation to license holders, he put forth a bill that not only does cover personal cultivation of cannabis, but called for the legalization of recreational marijuana in general. The bill was introduced in January 2017.
The bill – The Guam Industry Cannabis Act of 2019 – was signed into law in April 2019 by Governor Lou Leon Guerrero. The legalization covers individuals over the age of 21, and allows for up to one ounce (28 grams). This legalization also didn’t go into effect straight away as it required the institution of a Cannabis Control Board. The law does allow for individuals to grow up to six plants, but does not allow for public use, or driving under the influence.
Where are things now?
One of the things that we know about the passage of legislation, especially when it comes to subjects that require lots of complicated and interconnected laws, particularly when the subject is still a taboo one, and expressly when there are lots of competing interests, it can sure take a while. A bill being passed means that there’s enough agreement on the topic for it to go forth, but working out all the creases is a complex and time-consuming process, with lots of competing personal and business interests. As of now – fall 2020 – Guam is still working out the kinks of its recreational marijuana program.
Since Guam legalized recreational marijuana, and has been working out its regulation-related kinks, it actually is doing something nearly unheard of. It’s asking its citizens to weigh in on different measures. Citizens do often get a more direct say in Guam – after all, Guam does hold referendums which allow voters to directly decide a topic. But this is a little different. Rather than having the population voting a law in or out, the Cannabis Control Board is actually asking the public for comments in order to adjust legislation. Part of this process include three scheduled public hearings, all coming up soon on November 19th, 20th, and 21st.
While Coronavirus restrictions are limiting the number of people who can attend the hearings (which are to be held in a conference room at the governor’s office), the Cannabis Control Board has asked residents who want to make a comment, to contact them directly to set up a time and date for their opinion to be heard, either online or in person. Now, granted, this is a small territory with not many people. But what it’s doing right now is very, very cool. For once, instead of the government deciding it always knows what’s best for its people, this government is going directly to the people for help, and that’s a pretty awesome thing. Some would say its what a democracy should entail.
For any Guam residents who read this in time and want to be involved, please, take advantage of the fact that your home location is open to your opinion. You can contact the Cannabis Control Board at this address: [email protected]. The proposed rules and regulations that Guam citizens can weigh-in on are posted on the Rev and Tax website. The public is required – by Guam law – to have at least ten days to review measures before public hearings, and also allows residents in person to review a copy of the proposals. Interested participants are given up to 15 minutes to give their opinion.
Small country, big smoke!
Alright, so Guam is tiny. So tiny that a lot of its cannabis news can fly under the radar since population-wise it just doesn’t compare to places like Germany, or any US state, or Canada. But that doesn’t mean that its tiny population isn’t getting really high. As of 2012, a World Drug Report put out by The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes established Guam as having the 3rd highest smoking population with 18.4% smoking cannabis. This put the tiny island behind a couple other tiny places, Palau at #1 with 24.2%, and the Northern Mariana Islands at #2 with a smoking population of approximately 22.2%. Now, whether these numbers are accurate is really not important, because even if they’re a little off, it shows that some of these smaller locations have very big smoking populations, regardless of the exact specifics.
In the same report, the US came up as #7 with 14.1% using cannabis, and Canada was right behind at #8 with a smoking population of 12.7%.
Guam, as a cool touristic island location, can also benefit from marijuana tourism, and since Guam legalized recreational marijuana, it now has a leg up. With Coronavirus restrictions still at play all over the world, it’s hard to say exactly what Guam can expect as a cannabis tourism destination, but the country has already been trying to entice residents of Asia to come on over. According to Senator Clynton Ridgell who is helping organize the bill with Speaker Tina Barnes and Senator Jose Terlaje, “I’m actively working with them to figure out how to complete the final steps, which include the need for public hearings. We’ll get this done soon and we’ll attract a new type of tourist to Guam.”
Cannabis tourism is already becoming big in other places, including other US territories like the US Virgin Islands.
Sometimes big things come in small packages. Guam is certainly small, but since Guam legalized recreational marijuana, it’s been taking some very big steps to include the population in legislation that directly effects it. If only more places did the same…
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