Pubdate: Fri, 19 Nov 2010
Source: Saipan Tribune (US MP)
Copyright: 2010 Saipan Tribune
Author: Haidee V. Eugenio


Senators are set to act today on a House measure legalizing marijuana
use in the CNMI for all purposes, but a lawyer is urging senators to
investigate and research the issues "before taking action on this bill
based on uninformed rhetoric and emotion."

Attorney Jeanne Rayphand, in a Nov. 15 letter to senators, said she
has not found any support for the assertion that the CNMI will lose
millions in federal grants should House Bill 17-47, House Substitute 1
is enacted into law, or that the children will be more at risk.

Rayphand also said the passage of the marijuana bill will have no
effect on the federal law regarding the control of marijuana.

But Senate President Paul Manglona (R-Rota) reiterated yesterday that
the marijuana bill will likely be killed in this afternoon's session
on Rota.

Sen. Luis Crisostimo (D-Saipan), for his part, said yesterday it is
likely that a medical marijuana bill will gain more support than a
bill that allows marijuana use for all purposes, including
recreational use.

Rep. Stanley Torres' (Ind-Saipan) marijuana legalization bill is among
the major bills on the Senate session agenda.

Torres said if the Senate kills his bill, he will introduce a new
measure focusing on medical marijuana.

Rayphand, in commenting on the bill, urged senators to look into at
least three major areas, including determining whether the CNMI will
really lose millions in federal grants if the bill is passed.

"I have not found any support for this assertion," Rayphand said in
her two-page letter to senators dated Nov. 15.

She cited as an example the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and
Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Regulations. She said as she
understands these regulations, an institution of higher education must
adopt and implement a program to prevent the unlawful possession, use
or distribution of illicit drugs and alcohol by students and

"This does not require a criminal statute prohibiting marijuana
possession, use or distribution. The same would be true for any
requirement that a workplace be drug-free," Rayphand told the

Public Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez earlier told lawmakers
that the Department of Public Health alone stands to lose $10 million
in federal grants should the marijuana bill pass.

Rayphand, in her letter, also cited the bill's prohibition on
furnishing marijuana to minors and provides for criminal penalties for
such offenses.

"This bill will not increase the risk of marijuana use by our children
and certainly our children will be no more at risk of marijuana use
than they are of alcohol and cigarette use," she said.

Rayphand also said the bill's passage will have no effect on the
federal law regarding the control of marijuana as set forth in 21 U.S.
841 et seq.

"As pointed out in the findings and purpose of H.B. 17-47, the funds
currently being spent by the CNMI for the enforcement of the CNMI
criminal statute regarding marijuana use could be used for other
purposes and it would be up to the federal government to take whatever
action it chooses to enforce federal laws regarding marijuana use,"
Rayphand added.

She said based on what she has read about marijuana, smoking marijuana
does not result in violence.

"And I personally would rather see someone smoking marijuana
occasionally instead of drinking alcohol excessively. I would rather
someone smoke a marijuana cigarette than drink a six-pack of beer,"
she said.

Rayphand also said there appears to be evidence that smoking marijuana
"is not harmful to one's health and does not cause long-term or
permanent mental impairment."

"At any rate, it is certainly no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
And it does have medicinal uses," she added.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial earlier said he would only support medical
marijuana legislation, and that would further depend on how the bill
is crafted.

Torres' bill seeks to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana use for
medicinal and other purposes in the CNMI, adding to a list of revenue-
generating bills pending in the 17th Legislature.
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