The island of Guam legalizes recreational cannabis after a tradition of consumption.

Guam island legalizes recreational consumption of cannabis

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Benito Díaz

Guam, a white sand island on the North Pacific, replete of huge palm trees with branches dancing to the sea breeze’s tune and sorrounded by crystallin waters with emerald reflections, has been the last country to legalize recreational use of cannabis. As unincorporated territory of the USA, the island is one of the 17 non autonomous territories under the supervision of the United Nations Decolonization Committee.

Last April, the government of the island, the largest in the group of Las Marianas, through her governor, Lourdes Aflague “Lou” Leon Guerrero, passed the Law 32. This law authorizes every person over 21 to grow up to six marijuana plants or be in possession of 28.3 gram (an ounce) of cannabis. In 2014, Guam had legalized the medicinal use of marijuana after a referendum. Approved by 57% of the votes, they overcame the first obstacle of the first legalization proposal, launched n 2010 and known as Bill 420, that never came to be.

It is necessary to regulate this illicit drug, the most used in our society. We need to have it and control it, watch over its use and effects, benefit from its medicinal effects, allow our people to live in a safer environment”, declared senator Guerrero after signing the new Law 32, a week after the Senate of this jurisdiction approved it with eight votes in favour and seven against, according to Pacific Daily News. Guerrero claimed that “keeping an open mind” is necessary and that they had taken in consideration the opinions of medics, nurses, lawyers, social workers, judiciary authorities, religious leaders, young parents, senators and many other members of the community.

To keep it out of the law means to deny its existence and to let the black market keep abusing us. We have to stay ahead and we need to control it”, said Guerrero. According to this norm, cannabis consumption will not be allowed in public spaces, schools or workplaces. Driving a vehicle under its influence will not either. Moreover, selling and buying it will not be permitted until measures for its commercialization are implemented. These measures are estimated to be ready in a year’s time.

Historic precedents

The Guam island, old Spanish Colony under the Capitanía General de Las Filipinas from the XV century until 1898, has joined the nations to recently recognize the therapeutic and recreational worth of marijuana, like Mexico or Trudeau’s Canada.

Legalization of cannabis was up for debate on many occasions before, starting during the 60s and 70s decades, when American troops destined to the Vietnam War made its use popular in the island, according to a study made by the Agency for Health and Development in Guam in 1996. Later, in 1991, debate was revived when citizen Benny Toves Guerrero (Riverside CA, 1954-Perris CA, 2017) was arrested after being found in possession of cannabis in the International Airport of Guam. In 2002, the court took his religious freedom into account, because of his Rastafarianism, to discharge him.

In 2003, a report by the National Drug Intelligence Center asserted that marijuana is a “drug commonly abused and easy to obtain in Guam, despite the considerable initiatives for law enforcement and eradication. Abuse amongst youngsters is particularly worrying”. The report, in line with the DEA doctrine, claims that marijuana “has been regularly confiscated in Guam. From 1995 to 1997, annual seizures of marijuana varied between 339 and 638 pounds. In 1998, the most recent year on record, the law enforcement offices seized more than 350 pounds of marijuana. The CQA (Customs and Quarantine Agency) in Guam seized 113.79 grams of marijuana in 2001, a decrease of 9.918 in comparison to year 2000”.

The report is, however, very imaginative when explaining the process that smugglers of cannabis use to introduce the plant in the island, apparently due to the need to import it from abroad, because of the bad quality of the soil on the island: “Generally, the drug is smuggled into Guam from the Republic of Palau and, less frequently, from Hawaii and the Federated States of Micronesia through the package delivery services or amongst commercial air cargo. Often, relatives of Guam residents, descendants of Palaos, send big refrigerators that contain fish or yam with marijuana (5 to 10 pounds) hidden in the refrigerators’ walls. Commercial airlines are also used to smuggle the drug. The dogs for drug detection are an efficiently ally to counter this method, according to the DEA”.

After overcoming the obstacles of the previous administration of Eddie Calvo, the current governor Lou Leon Guerrero opened the door to a new industry that promises to bring wealth to the territory, maintaining security and control over the market: “Nothing changes in our children’s protection, since we keep being responsible parents and responsible adults. I encourage the public to stay focused, to keep on bringing information about the development of the rules and regulations of the Control Board of Cannabis towards a safe and mature use of cannabis”.