Americans in supporters of legalization crossed a new milestone on Friday after the first U.S. territory legalized the use of marijuana for recreational use. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) became the first U.S. territory and the first U.S. jurisdiction to legalize cannabis for recreational use without implementing a medical marijuana program first.
With the signature Governor Ralph Torres on Friday, the Republican controlled territory took an unusual step, breaking from party tradition. The territory’s relationship with the United States is particularly strained. Adults over the age of 21 will be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana including infused extracts and products.
As the nation hits an all time high for marijuana support, U.S. territories could play an entirely new role in the fight for legalization. The Associated Press reported in 2017 that approximately 9,000 patients receive prescriptions for medical marijuana use in Puerto Rico. After hurricane Maria devastated the island a month later, new data indicates that an estimated 198,000 people have left Puerto Rico.
Lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have avoided talking about legalization and the legislation that would follow. In the U.S., the legal marijuana market is valued at $55 billion. Virgin Islands’ Senator ‘Positive’ Nelson has championed legalizing the substance in the territory to spur economic growth. In April, the senator held the second annual 4/20 march on St. Croix.
Just last week, President Trump declared a state of emergency in the territory after Typhoon Mangkhut passed through the island chain. In a statement, FEMA declared that, “aid has been made available to the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands to supplement Commonwealth and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions in the area affected by Typhoon Mangkhut beginning on September 10, 2018, and continuing.”
The tiny Pacific territory with a population of just over 50,000, its southern islands, including Rota were hit hard by Typhoon Mangkhut over a week ago. Several homes have been destroyed and a reported number of 13 families are living in tents.
- Washington, D.C.
- Northern Mariana Islands
In 2014, voters in the Virgin Islands approved by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin a referendum for the legislature to legalize medical marijuana in the territory.
The Virgin Islands has decriminalized marijuana to some degree. Typically, decriminalization means no prison time or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount for personal consumption. The conduct is treated like a minor traffic violation. “I’m requesting that this measure be heard by the committee of the whole, and not the Health Committee, whose chair has exhibited an obvious bias against cannabis legalization in any form,” Nelson told the Source.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly — leading the opposition on legalization — chairs the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, where the legislation has stalled. The Trump administration is also seeking to undermine legalization efforts in states with messaging surrounding health concerns with marijuana use.
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Featured photo by Forbes.