Recreational marijuana bill sparks heated debate

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Guam's laws currently allow patients suffering from certain conditions to register in the medical marijuana program.

Guam – Thursday’s public hearing on the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana on Guam drew impassioned testimonies, marred by heated exchanges and spiced up with a bit of theatrics.

Local residents had the opportunity to weigh in on the debate on Sen. Clynt Ridgell’s Bill 32-35, the Cannabis Industry Act, which intends to develop a new industry in Guam as well as create a new source of taxable revenue for the government of Guam.

Sparks were ignited early on when Paul Zerzan, educator and opponent of Bill 32-35, got into a disagreement with Ridgell on statistics produced by studies on the impact of cannabis performed in the state of Colorado.

Zerzan’s impassioned testimony came to a boiling point as he was weeded out of the public hearing for repeatedly shouting at the senator, who was attempting to respond to him. As Zerzan was escorted out, he accused the senator of being high, telling the senator, “You are a liar and you are high on drugs. Look at your red eyes.”

Ridgell kept his composure, however he asked that Zerzan be removed for his inability to hold a civil discussion. “Perhaps [Mr. Zerzan] is under the influence of something that is causing him to act out,” the senator quipped.

The drama, like the joint, was passed around the argument with a potent display of courage from one of the supporters of Bill 35.

Howard Hemsley, also known as Maga’niti Roberto, stunned those present at this afternoon’s public hearing when he produced three bags of cannabis, waved them in the air while saying, “Guaha guini fifty-dollar bag. Guaha guini hundred-dollar bag… hayi malagu?”

Translated to English, he said, “I have a $50 dollar bag and I have a hundred-dollar bag. Who wants to buy?”

Currently under Guam law, the possession of cannabis, under the amount of 28 grams or one-ounce, is legal and considered only a violation, similar to a traffic ticket.

Despite the resinous situation on the floor there were highlights and clarity of the mind that brought logic and reason to both sides of the dialectic.

Bill Cundiff, president of the U.S. Air Force Veterans Association, cautioned the legislature about the impact of the bill.

Cundiff described his views on drug consumption as “libertarian” in that he believes to let people do what they want unless they negatively impact the community.

Cundiff expressed concerns that Bill 35 is an unfunded mandate and the financial impact on GovGuam’s finances are yet unknown. He is also doubtful of the viability of the current cannabis industry studies and statistics, which were used as working model references in the drafting of the bill.

“I have no qualms with people doing their thing on their lives,” Cundiff said. “I really don’t. You can smoke marijuana. You can gamble away your life. I have no problem with that at all – to each his own. However, if what you’re doing creates a problem for this community whereby it causes a strain on a lot of these agencies and taxes my pocket book, then I have a problem.”

Cundiff said he represents 40 members of TOHGE,  a nonprofit organization  that provides counseling and support for recovering addicts.

Representing the entrepreneurial opportunities was local businessman Matt Geiger who has plans to open up a cannabis testing laboratory should Bill 35 is into law. Giger, along with his partners believe in the viability and the benefits of a cannabis industry on Guam.

“If you look at what the lab is going to actually help generate just on the small scope, we’re going to making $18 to $20 million a year on taxes — year one. Year six, that doubles. Year nine or 10, that triples,” Giger said.

Giger and his partners’ plans include all three sectors of the industry: growing, manufacturing, and retail.

Giger, however, recommended that the language of the bill be amended to allow  the ownership of a farm, manufacturer, laboratory, and dispensary by a single group to corporation.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, meanwhile, reiterated her policy on marijuana.

“I have stated on record that I am in support of the responsible and legal use of cannabis among adults 21 years of age and older,” she said. “GovGuam has policies and programs currently in place that outline proper behavior at the workplace and the passage of this bill will not amend that. Should the bill become law, the Cannabis Control Board will establish the rules and regulations pertaining to the use of cannabis. Until then, Adelup cannot comment on specific policies.”

 

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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.