The House and Senate of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean near Guam, have approved legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and allow commercial sale of the drug.
If Republican Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres signs the bill, it would make CNMI the first U.S. territory to allow recreational marijuana use, as well as the first locality in the United States to create a commercial marijuana market via legislative action rather than via a voter-driven ballot initiative. This year, lawmakers in Vermont approved a marijuana legalization measure that included no provision for commercial sales.
The CNMI bill passed with overwhelming support in both chambers of government: The vote in the House was 18 to 1, with one abstention, while the Senate vote was 6 to 0 with two abstentions. A majority of lawmakers in both chambers are Republican.
The population of the Northern Mariana Islands stood at about 52,000 as of July 17, slightly smaller than the population of Bethesda, Md. But legalization advocates are nonetheless cheering the move.
“This is a historic moment, as it is the first time a governing body in the United States has ever enacted legislation to both end marijuana prohibition and establish a system of regulation to replace it,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement.
Gerry Hemley, co-founder of Sensible CNMI, the group spearheading the initiative in the Northern Mariana Islands, said in a statement that “this is an opportunity for the commonwealth to establish itself as a trendsetter on this issue and set an example for the states and other U.S. territories.”
The CNMI vote comes as the White House is considering ramping up its rhetoric against marijuana use, and the attorney general has rescinded the previous administration’s protections for state-legal marijuana businesses. But states that have already legalized recreational marijuana have vowed to protect their own nascent marijuana industries from federal interference. And in November, voters in Michigan and North Dakota will decide whether to legalize recreational use of the drug, while voters in Utah and Missouri will consider medical marijuana proposals.
Lawmakers in New Jersey, meanwhile, are considering their legalization bill, and New York's legislature is likely to consider their legalization bill next year. Recreational marijuana sales are expected to begin nationwide in Canada later this year.
It appears the Northern Mariana Islands is in good company as they disregard federal saber-rattling on marijuana legalization.