Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero signed the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019 into law Thursday.
Sen. Clynton Ridgell's Bill 32-35 decriminalizes the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older, and establishes a framework for the creation of a cannabis industry that could eventually lead to the legalization of the production, sale and taxation of marijuana on Guam.
"I have decided to sign Bill 32 into law," Gov. Leon Guerrero declared to a packed house of journalists and observers gathered at Adelup to hear her decision.
The measure is now Public Law 35-5.
The governor said she "listened intensely" to both the opponents and proponents of the measure. She made her decision with an "open mind" following "tremendous earnest debate."
She said "at the end of the day" the one question she had to answer was: "What would a responsible community government leader do to protect the interest and welfare of the community?"
Her answer: "We have to take it and control it (and) we must regulate this illicit drug that is the most widely used drug in our society."
Keeping marijuana illegal would allow the underground market to "continue to prey on us," she said.
"We all agree (on) the positive medicinal effects of cannabis" said the governor, "and the good it has done for those in pain and suffering from cancer, PTSD (and) debilitating neurological events."
The prohibition against cannabis use in the workplace and in the schools remains, said the governor.
"Nothing changes in the protection of our children" and "we must continue to enforce zero tolerance of substance abuse in the workplace."
Cannabis products cannot be used in public places, she said. The regulations "mimic" the prohibitions already in place for legal alcohol and tobacco.
The governor concluded that "as a community, we need to work together to further decrease the abuse of other drugs and to make sure we continue to work towards a safer and protected environment."
‘Best decision’ for Guam
"Ultimately, I think this is the best decision for the island," said the bill's author, Sen. Clynt Ridgell. "I know that we can make Guam a better place and I believe this is a step in the correct direction."
Enactment of the bill does not mean that cannabis products are now legal and available for sale.
Ridgell said that P.L. 35-5 does not give free reign for anyone to start consuming and selling cannabis products anywhere, whenever they wish.
"The law makes it clear that public consumption is not allowed," said Ridgell. The law also makes it clear that "you have to purchase it from a licensed cannabis facility."
It could be a year or longer before homegrown marijuana products are available for purchase in cannabis stores on Guam.
Cannabis products will be available only at designated cannabis stores that have been licensed by the Cannabis Control Board, said Ridgell. Marijuana will not be for sale at Pay-Less or 7-Eleven, he said.
Cannabis cannot be consumed in any public place, in any vehicle, and not at the park or the beach, said Ridgell. It can be consumed only "on private property, in the privacy of your own home."
Enactment of the law now allows home growers to raise a maximum of six marijuana plants for recreational use – three juvenile plants and three adult plants. They must be grown in an enclosed place, out of public sight, said Ridgell. No permit is needed.
There is no longer a penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Possession of more than an ounce is still subject to a fine, said Ridgell.
One of the positive outcomes, said Ridgell, is that the new law should allow the benefits of the long-stalled medicinal marijuana bill to take full effect.
The lack of a testing laboratory has been one of the major stumbling blocks holding up implementation of medicinal marijuana. Until recently there have been no investors or funding to build a lab.
The new law mandates that a testing lab must be built and operational before any cannabis products are sold. All cannabis products will have to be tested before sale.
Now that the cannabis act is law, said Ridgell, "it'll allow for more investors to come in and invest, because it's now a larger market." He said the medicinal market was too small.
Legalization also might encourage more doctors to write certifications qualifying patients for medicinal marijuana.
Medicinal cannabis growers can grow up to 12 plants, however they need a permit.
Joining the governor and Sen. Ridgell at the press conference were Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio, Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, and Sens. Louise Muna and Régine Biscoe Lee.
The governor's decision to sign the Cannabis Act into law comes eight days after it was passed by the Legislature by a vote of 8-7.
Sens. Ridgell, Joe San Agustin, Biscoe Lee, Telo Taitague, Muna, Jose Terlaje, and Kelly Marsh and Speaker Barnes voted in favor of the measure.
Sens. James Moylan, Wil Castro, Therese Terlaje, Sabina Perez, Mary Torres, Amanda Shelton and Telena Nelson voted against it.
Cannabis Control Board
The governor must appoint nine members to a Cannabis Control Board. She said she has not named anyone to the board.
That board then has up to a year to devise the rules and regulations to govern the cannabis industry.
Then, within a year from today, the board must submit its proposed rules to the Legislature for approval.
The rules and regulations will have to be turned into a piece of legislation that will be subject to a public hearing within 75 days after the Legislature receives them from the board.
The bill then must be approved by lawmakers and sent on to the governor for her final approval.
The commercial sale of cannabis will not be permitted until the rules and regulations governing the cannabis industry have become law.
"It could be less" than a year, said Sen. Ridgell. "It depends on how quickly they're able to act."