Tourism executives face off with cannabis board members over marijuana in Tumon

Island hotels. (PNC file photo)

After continuously expressing the need to ban cannabis in Tumon for weeks now, stakeholders of the island’s tourism industry finally got to air their views in a Cannabis Control Board (CCB) meeting Thursday afternoon, where they got to dialog and face off with members of the cannabis board itself.

In attendance during the CCB meeting were a high-powered group of tourism industry and business executives including Mark Baldyga, owner of the SandCastle group, Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association president Mary Rhodes, Guam Chamber of Commerce president Catherine Castro, Alupang Beach Club president Steve Kasperbauer, and Guam Visitors Bureau vice president Gerry Perez.

Kasperbauer started the dialog during the public participation part of the CCB board meeting by saying that so far, the CCB has heard opinions on cannabis from a local point of view, but not the point of view of tourists who visit the island.

According to Kasperbauer, in Japan and South Korea, marijuana is not only illegal, but it’s punishable by prison time of up to seven to 10 years and it does not matter whether they ingest marijuana inside their home countries or outside so long as it’s proven that they did.

“South Korean nationals are held up to the standards of their law, wherever they are in the world. So for example, there’s an article that was out recently that South Koreans were smoking marijuana recreationally in Canada. They were punished. They went to jail. The same thing goes for Japan,” Kasperbauer said.

He added that “perception is reality” and if Guam is perceived as a cannabis destination, those looking for family-safe vacations, which is the bread and butter of Guam tourism, simply won’t come.

In response, CCB member Adrian Cruz said that just like alcohol, there are also limits on where cannabis businesses are allowed to operate. “So, this is the same. The same restrictions that alcohol establishments have also apply in the cannabis business,” he said.

CCB member and Department of Revenue and Taxation director Dafne Shimizu also said that the actual law which was passed in 2019 does ban public consumption of cannabis unless there are regulations that are promulgated and enacted by the cannabis control board.

“My understanding is that, at this point, there are no regs or there is nothing in our draft rules and regs that allows for public consumption. The other item that I wanted to point out with regards to the current law, is that the smoking of cannabis is also regulated. The Natasha Protection Act of 2005, which regulates tobacco smoking, would also apply to cannabis,” Shimizu said.

CCB chairwoman Vanessa Williams also clarified that the cannabis board is just charged with creating regulations to implement and enforce the recreational cannabis law on island.

“We don’t have the authority to outlaw or prohibit recreational cannabis. That ship has sailed. So we’re here to just implement, consistent with the law, and we definitely want to do it in a way that’s in the best interest of our community but also in accordance with the law,” Williams said.

She added: “This law on the books requires or treats cannabis smoking and consumption just like tobacco smoking. So it’s prohibited in places of dining and in public places, and so on. The law also prohibits cannabis facilities, by law, from being located within 1000 feet of playgrounds, parks, and any public, private school, and childcare centers. On top of that, the proposed regulations actually don’t allow any retail facilities in H zones or any facilities and an H zone.”

Williams then asked the tourism and business executives present for any suggestions and recommendations to address the concerns of family-friendly tourism.

Mark Baldyga, owner of the SandCastle Group, suggested that recreational adult-use cannabis can be put in a red-light district or in an adult entertainment zone.

“You can have hookah lounges, you could have anything you want, but just not in Tumon. If cannabis is used in a membership club and or it’s sold in a cannabis promoted tour, we will lose tourism arrivals. Really, you can just get around the public thing by making it illegal to smoke pot in a hotel room. And the easy way to do it would really be to just not permit cannabis in Tumon or within 1000 feet of an H zone,” Baldyga said.

Finally, GHRA president Mary Rhodes said it should also be noted that cannabis is no longer limited to smoking and now comes in many forms like cannabis oil and edibles.

“One of the questions we had was what about the other forms of cannabis like oils or other forms that cannabis can come in? Is it really from only a manufacturer or wholesaler standpoint, or can you be a distributor and then have it in other outlets, other retail outlets? Is the intention to eventually have it in restaurants, or in identified places that would become either sole retail outlets for it, or are you planning on having these like what happened in California, Oregon, and Colorado where you can actually have them infused in food and drinks? We want to know a little bit more about those questions and if you guys can clarify that,” Rhodes said.