Pot rules ready, but virus might delay public hearing

The Cannabis Control Board wanted to hold a public hearing Sept. 5 on the rules and regulations for the recreational cannabis industry, but the pandemic-related restrictions mean that date now is unlikely, according to board Chairwoman Vanessa Williams.

The board, during its regular meeting earlier this month, finished drafting the rules and regulations for the cannabis industry and sent them to the Bureau of Budget and Management Research for a mandatory review.

Adults can legally grow, consume and possess recreational marijuana, but selling it or trading it for anything of value remains illegal until the rules and regulations are adopted and implemented and until a government seed-to-sale tracking system is operating.

The Cannabis Control Board had an April 4 deadline to finish the rules and regulations, but its work was delayed after the governor shut down most government operations in mid-March.

Board members tentatively set Sept. 5 for a public hearing, which is a requirement of the government’s rule-making law. That means the hearing would have to be publicly announced sometime this week and the proposed rules and regulations would be available for public review at the same time.

The document, which is in draft form, has not been publicly released, although board members have openly discussed some of the provisions during the board’s public meetings.

“We still have to comply with the law’s requirements for in-person access to the rules and hearing, and until we’re able to do so, we won’t be able to formally adopt the rules,” Williams said Monday. “If the restrictions under (the governor’s executive order) are relaxed by Aug. 29, that would mean the very earliest we could have the hearings would start on Sept. 8.”

The governor on Aug. 21 issued a new lockdown executive order because of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, limiting government operations primarily to those related to health and safety. Those restrictions are scheduled to expire after Aug. 28.

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Williams said it also is unclear if a public hearing can happen on Sept. 8, “simply because we have no idea what the COVID-19 impact and related restrictions will look like. As we’ve all seen, the situation is so fluid that it can change virtually overnight.”

The cannabis law requires that a 15% excise tax be assessed when cannabis growers sell to manufacturers or retailers. Half of that money will go to the government’s general fund and the rest will go the Department of Public Health and Social Services, the Guam Police Department and other agencies for specific purposes. The Department of Revenue and Taxation will receive 2.5 percent of the tax collected to pay for the cost of implementing the act.

Although recreational cannabis is legal under Guam law, it still is federally banned, which means cannabis businesses cannot use federally insured banks for deposits of money related to cannabis or to make payments. That means cannabis businesses will operate primarily on a cash basis.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in June adopted rules and regulations for its commercial cannabis industry. It started accepting applications for licenses on Aug. 4, officially launching the industry there.

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