Attorney Howard Trapp maintains that any bill passed by the Guam Legislature to legalize marijuana for recreational use would violate the Organic Act, a 1950 U.S. law that established Guam's three branches of government.
Freshman Sen. Clynt Ridgell introduced a bill Thursday that would legalize the adult use of cannabis and cannabis products on Guam. Bill No. 32-35 will allow adults 21-years of age and older to cultivate, purchase, and use cannabis and cannabis products.
However Trapp, who is known for his knowledge of the Organic Act, cites Section 1423-a of the act which refers to “the scope of legislative authority.”
It states: “The legislative power of Guam shall extend to all rightful subjects of legislation not inconsistent with the provisions of this chapter and the laws of the United States applicable to Guam.”
The issue says Trapp, is that the federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act. It’s in the same Schedule 1 category as cocaine and heroin which means marijuana is viewed by the federal government as highly addictive and having no medical value.
Trapp said just because 10 states have approved legislation to legalize recreational marijuana does not mean that Guam can do the same.
“The 50 states are sovereign, and they can do as they please,” Trapp said. The federal government can file suit against the states but has not exercised that authority, he said.
Guam’s case is different, Trapp said, because it’s not a matter of state law versus federal law. All Guam law is an extension of federal law through the Organic Act, which specifically prohibits the enactment of any law that contradicts existing federal law.
Same argument, different bill
"I have great respect for attorney Howard Trapp but in this instance I disagree with him," Ridgell said.
The senator pointed out that the same argument was raised during the debate over the medicinal marijuana law.
“This argument was brought up to the Supreme Court of Guam and ultimately the Supreme Court found in favor of the Legislature, thereby paving the way for the legalization of cannabis use in the territory,” he said in a statement.
Trapp said he was asked to appeal the Guam Supreme Court’s ruling on medicinal marijuana to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but he decided not to because of lack of funding.
Still, Trapp warned, if the bill is passed and signed into law, if anyone were to challenge it, “the Ninth Circuit would shoot it down in an instant."
Same bill, different legislature
The legalization of recreational marijuana has been proposed before, in the 34th Guam Legislature by then-Gov. Eddie Calvo.
Calvo's Bill 8-34 would have authorized the use of marijuana for persons age 21 or older "in the interest of promoting the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes and enhancing individual freedom."
It had a public hearing but never made it out of committee for a vote on the floor of the Legislature.
During public hearings on the governor’s proposal in March and April 2017, Guam Visitors Bureau President and CEO Nate Denight testified in opposition of the bill, saying, “The recreational use of cannabis may compromise Guam’s image as a family friendly and safe destination.”
That was then, Denight said on Monday when asked about Ridgell’s bill.
“That was a year and a half ago. And more and more jurisdictions are looking at it now," he stated, adding that the newly appointed members of the GVB board may reach a different conclusion.
Denight remains president and CEO of GVB until at least Feb. 11, when the new GVB board is expected to meet and swear in Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s appointee, Pilar Laguaña, to replace him.