SAIPAN – The Northern Marianas House of Representatives is reviewing the Senate version of the proposed amendments to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 2018 marijuana law. That law authorizes regulated marijuana use for what it describes as "the health, safety, and overall quality of life for our residents." 

House Bill 21-13 as amended and passed by the Senate last week will be on the next House session agenda but only as a Senate communication, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao said.

The House has yet to accept or reject the Senate version of the bill, Attao said.

The Senate restored the hemp restriction, which the House removed from the original version of the bill.

The Senate also cut the commissioners’ proposed annual salary from $60,000 to $55,000.

House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, who authored the original version of H.B. 21-13, said House members will review the Senate version “thoroughly.”

Only two things can happen to the bill now, he said. Either they place it on the calendar for action or reject it and form a bicameral conference committee to draft a new version acceptable to both houses.

“It will also be nice for us to get input from the Cannabis Commission,” Sablan said. “It will also be helpful to hear from the members of the House Cannabis Committee which did a lot of work on the measure.”

Proposal to regulate hemp farming

Rep. Marco Peter said he will continue to push for the passage of his H.B. 21-55, which proposes to allow regulated hemp farming in the CNMI.

In a separate interview, Peter said, given the differences between hemp and marijuana, “it is just appropriate that hemp must not be classified in the same category as marijuana and should be managed accordingly.”

He noted that the Agriculture Act of 2018 or U.S. Public Law 115-334 removed hemp from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances and provides for the regulation of hemp industry at the state level.

Hemp is a strain of cannabis sativa similar to marijuana. But unlike marijuana, which has 5% to 35% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, level, hemp has 0.3 percent THC level.

H.B. 21-55 states that in the absence of an approved regulatory plan, the federal government would regulate the hemp industry. This would supersede the commonwealth’s ability to regulate the industry.