April 3, 2019: Guam
After surviving an 8 to 7 vote in the legislature, a cannabis legalization bill made it to the governor's desk, and she signed it, making Guam the second U.S. territory to legalize recreational cannabis. Per a press release, Governor Lou Leon Guerrero said, "We must regulate this illicit drug that is the most widely used drug in our society. We have to take it and control it, monitor its use and effects, benefit from its medicinal efforts, allow our people to live in a safer environment."
Guam follows the Northern Mariana Islands as the second U.S. territory to legalize cannabis, and together they represent the first places in the U.S. (i.e., states or territories) to legalize a commercial cannabis market through the legislature. While the Vermont legislature legalized cannabis in early 2018, its law did not allow for a marketplace.
What's Past Is Prologue
Guam and the Virgin Islands are U.S. territories that together play an important role in marking the full expanse of the United States. Point Udall in Guam is the westernmost point by travel in the U.S., and Point Udall in the Virgin Islands is the easternmost point. What is a Udall? The correct answer is who are the Udalls because each spot is named after a different brother. Morris “Mo” Udall—the namesake for the Point on Guam—was a glass eye-rockin’ former Mormon and Denver Nugget Hall of Famer who, as an Arizona Congressman, challenged Jimmy Carter in the presidential primaries. His brother Stewart Udall—the Point on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands—is a World War II vet and conference champion Arizona Wildcat who served as Secretary of the Interior and in Congress. Can the Trivia Challenge get any wilder? Most definitely. Mo Udall’s son Mark was a Colorado Senator who co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act and got busted with three ounces of cannabis back in 1973.
If you visit Guam, Point Udall might be the politically appropriate place to light up in honor of the Udall family. And speaking of politics, Guam made history in November 2014 by becoming the first U.S. territory to legalize medical cannabis. The ballot initiative passed with more than 56 percent of the vote.
Legal issues nearly kept the initiative off the ballot, but the Guam Supreme Court made the call two months before the election that ultimately allowed the vote to occur. The law legalizes cannabis for debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and epilepsy. The implementation of the law is currently ongoing (as of September 2015), and an issue with amending the law threatened a two-year delay that Guam’s attorney general resolved earlier this month. Guam’s Public Health Department is using Arizona’s medical-cannabis structure as a guide, and early specifics suggest that the island will host three dispensaries and all cannabis must be homegrown (i.e., no imports).
Guam is the largest of 2,000 islands collectively called Micronesia spread out across 2,000 nautical miles. Among the island oddities, Apra Harbor features the sunken WWII Japanese freighter Tokai Maru on top of the WWI German cruiser Cormoran for truly historic wreck dives. The island is also famous for Japanese sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, who hid in a cave from 1944 (after the U.S. recaptured Guam) until he was discovered in 1972.
The local government decriminalized cannabis for possession under an ounce ($100 fine), while more than an ounce can result in no more than 60 days in prison and a $500 fine. However, possession in a designated school zone is a more serious offense that can result in up to a year in prison and a $1000 fine. Generally speaking, first-time drug offenders are commonly given probation without an admission of guilt.
Photo credit: Unsplash.