Bill to legalize marijuana remains in limbo

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It’s been roughly six months since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made national headlines when he told reporters that the Justice Department would adopt “responsible policies” to enforce the federal government’s prohibition on pot.

Sessions’ statement, coupled with similar comments from the White House, signaled a sweeping crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In the months since, however, no official action has been taken.

Threats of the potential crackdown prompted Gov. Eddie Calvo and his administration to step back from Calvo’s own proposed bill, to legalize the drug for recreation use by adults.

“Some of the strong statements put out by the federal government, particularly Jeff Sessions, was some of my reasons for the pause,” Calvo said Tuesday, adding: “I want to keep abreast as to what’s happening on the federal level because one of the things I don’t want to do is step into something and then have the federal government go after us.”

In the weeks prior to the crackdown scare, Calvo had announced his support to legalize marijuana, drafting a measure that had started making its way through the legislative process. Bill 8-34 would have made it legal for adults 21 years and older to purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries. If enacted, a 15-percent sin tax would’ve been imposed on the sale of pot, potentially boosting the government’s revenue.

Calvo had supported a full-legalized marijuana market, believing the boost in revenue would help the government sustain the island’s costly medical marijuana program, as well as provide extra money to the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority and drug rehabilitation programs.

He now wants to increase the gross receipts tax to generate additional revenue to help the hospital.

“I brought up the issue on recreational marijuana because of this big gap in terms of what we needed for the resources to regulate medicinal marijuana,” Calvo said, later stating: “If it were made recreational it would be guided more such as how the alcohol and tobacco industry is, which is much less regulatory, so that’s where I saw that.”

During the bill’s first hearing back in April, Calvo’s liaison, Eric Palacios, told lawmakers that the governor had suspended his push for further action on the bill “in light of the changing federal landscape.”

The bill has sat in committee ever since. 

At the behest of President Donald Trump, Sessions had established the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which comprises several prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials. The task force was responsible for identifying the most effective legal means to combat illegal immigration and violent crime.

A subcommittee of the task force was to conduct a “review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing and marijuana to ensure consistency with the department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime with administration goals and priorities.”

The Associated Press reported that the task force didn’t come up with any new policy recommendations and instead encouraged Justice Department officials to continue studying the Obama-era’s hands-off approach in order to determine whether to change or rescind that style of enforcement.

When asked what it would take to recommit to his bill, Calvo said the current focus should be on getting the medicinal program established once and for all.

“I think what we have to do is make good with what we have and right now we have medicinal marijuana,” he said. “How do we effectuate the use of marijuana so we don’t have to wait again years and years?”

The implementation of the medicinal cannabis industry has been slow to move forward. Some local stakeholders were banking on the legalized market to finally get the medical program up and running.

Department of Public Health and Social Services Director James Gillan has repeatedly stated that the program won’t go anywhere until the mandated pot-testing laboratory is set up. The problem there, however, is a lack of interested investors.

“No lab, no program,” Gillan stated in a previous email.

Gillan has described the laboratory issue as the “real sticking point,” as attracting investors to operate it will be difficult. Given the island’s estimated population of medical cannabis users and the current lack of lab regulations in place, investors aren’t likely willing to put up the money.

“No one has followed through with an application for a lab and I believe it is because there is no real money to be made due to low volumes that will be tested,” Gillan recently wrote.

In light of the crackdown comments this past Spring, Adelup’s special policy advisor Troy Torres said the Calvo administration had started looking into a measure that would allow Guam’s registered medical marijuana patients to grow the drug at home while the implementation of the medicinal program dragged on.

On Tuesday, Calvo said his administration has been talking about drafting the home cultivation measure. If a bill is drafted, he said, it would be a stop-gap measure that would only allow patients to grow marijuana in the interim while the laboratory issues get worked out and the program gets fully implemented.

“I’m always concerned about home cultivation, but we’ve hit a road block,” Calvo said. “So with that road block and until we can get an established lab, until we can get the logistical support necessary to regulate medicinal marijuana … I’m actively looking at, potentially as an option, but for me it would be more of a stop gap measure, to deal with the issues of the folks that are in need of that treatment.”

In the past, the governor hasn’t shied away from speaking out against the federal government. During a Rotary Club of Tumon Bay meeting at the Pacific Star Resort and Spa on Tuesday, Calvo spoke to members, encouraging them to support his bills to borrow money and raise taxes on businesses to help improve the public hospital.

While speaking specifically about government debt and borrowing, during his presentation, Calvo said the federal government shouldn’t tell Guam how to handle its affairs.

When asked whether he should have the same mentality when it comes to the federal government’s threats of cracking down on state legalized marijuana programs, Calvo reiterated his prevent statement to currently focus on fixing the issues with the local medical program.

“I just want to see it get done,” he said. “And I do know that the federal government has not made any major issue on the medicinal part of it, so it’s relatively safe that I move forward that in trying to resolve some of the road blocks that we’re having with medicinal marijuana.”

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Source: 420Intel – Politics

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