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Voters could determine fate of medicinal marijuana on Guam

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - It started off as a resolution, then evolved into a bill that has since been revised. And if lawmakers take action on the latest version of Bill 215, legalizing medicinal marijuana on Guam could be left in the hands of the voters.

It started off as Resolution 201 introduced back in August last year and from there it quickly evolved into actual legislation in Bill 215 following overwhelming support in the community. Senator Tina Muna Barnes and Senator Aline Yamashita have since revised the bill that instead of leaving it up to lawmakers, the matter will be determined by voters in this upcoming election - that is if lawmakers pass the latest version currently in this month's session agenda.

Today, Majority Leader Rory Respicio, who introduced a similar measure in 2010, spoke in support of Bill 215 commending the bill's authors for taking a bold position. While his bill never hit session floor, he says the mood of the country has changed even more so today. "And so what Bill 215 is doing is its recognizing and empowering our people to educate themselves so that if this thing passes and it's going to be a legislative submissions that certainly that the people every individual person will take the time to understand what the issue is," he said.

Senator Tommy Morrison said he's open minded about the issue, but had personal reservations mostly with how it may impact the youth down the road. "Again I know we're focusing specifically on medicinal marijuana but then again I want to make sure that we tighten this a bit further that this does not leak into our children none of us want to see our children exposed even to medicinal marijuana even at a young age," he said.

Morrison amended the bill by deleting the entire section related to homegrown cultivation registrations as he felt it left room for potential loopholes for youth to be exposed to illegal uses. Senator Michael Limtiaco meanwhile says he's in support of medicinal marijuana but also had some concerns, noting, "And so with the same concerns that the retiring speaker had raised regarding the homegrown cultivation, it also begs the questions of the production and distribution regulation and the financial resources that the department is going to need to regulate that."

The measure appropriates $100,000 from the Healthy Future Funds to assist Public Health in promulgating rules that would be established by an advisory board. Those rules would then come back to the Legislature to ensure they are implemented properly.

Limtiaco further raised concern over the fees for the licensure of producers and cannabis facilities along with utilizing licensed pharmacists on island to distribute the marijuana. 

And while he noted challenges with federal law, Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz stood in support of the measure, saying he understands the need for it even sharing a personal story about a significant person in his life who was suffering from cancer. "And in order to get him to eat the only thing that would calm his stomach after all the chemo and the medication he was taking was to ingest medical marijuana," he said.

Cruz added he was glad lawmakers were concerned about aspects of controlling the drug, as he is planning to introduce a bill in the coming months to tighten the laws on alcohol, prescription drugs and tobacco.

Senator Barnes meanwhile amended the bill changing it from a referendum to a legislative submission. She thanked the family of Joaquin "KC" Concepcion, for who the bill was named in honor of, for sharing his story on how medicinal marijuana helped him during his battle with cancer before passing away last year.

Bill 215 was sent to the Third Reading File and awaits a final vote by lawmakers. 

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