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Dear Pot Lawyer,

Thanks for the recent rundown on states that could legalize weed in 2018. What about US territories?

This has been in the news a bit. Far away, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, various tiny islands are thinking about legalizing weed. Larger islands in the Caribbean have also made headway. In all, I’d say the territories are moving at a similar pace to Midwestern US states: They are not going crazy, but they’re doing different things along the continuum of prohibition, decriminalization, medical programs, and adult use.

There are five permanently inhabited US Territories: two in the Caribbean and three in the Pacific. I’ll give you the rundown on each.

Puerto Rico is by far the most populous territory. Medical cannabis legalization passed in 2015, but non-medical use is still criminalized. Today, Puerto Rico’s upstart medical cannabis industry is recovering from Hurricane Maria. Large manufacturing and grow facilities had their roofs blown off, and, without electricity or water, most of the plants died. Still, there are 30,000 industry jobs today in Puerto Rico and 16,000 patients. Also, Governor Roselló has been talking smack about Jeff Sessions, so things seem good in that sense.

The US Virgin Islands are tiny compared to Puerto Rico, and not super progressive. This territory decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of weed back in 2014, and it legalized industrial hemp in 2012. Beyond that, voters passed a 2014 referendum for the legislature to have a look-see at medical cannabis, but not much has happened.

Heading to the North Pacific, Guam voters approved medical cannabis in 2014, but things were sleepy for a bit. Then, last week, Governor Calvo got fired up about the awful federal tax law, and wrote: “As a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, I Liheslaturan Guåhan, with assistance from the Office of Finance and Budget, shall collaborate with I Maga’lahen Guåhan to determine the feasibility and implementation of [adult use legalization].” Furthermore, “it could be treated like alcohol and tobacco, and it could be taxed,” he said. Let’s hope it works out!

Per the 2012 UNODC World Drug Report, Guam’s neighbor, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has the second highest weed consumption per capita of any nation, at 22.2 percent. (Palau is number one; Guam is number three.) However, weed is totally illegal in CNMI, for both medical and recreational use. Last fall, the islands began looking at a bill to allow a medical program and home grow, with an eye toward full legalization. Given the usage rates, this makes sense.

American Samoa is far away from everyone in the South Pacific—far away and nasty when it comes to weed. Cannabis is completely illegal there, and the government warns visitors about the mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine for simple possession. If Guam is the Oregon of the Pacific, then American Samoa is Idaho. As far as weed goes, that’s not a good thing to be.


Got a question? Email us at potlawyer@portlandmercury.com. And remember that if you have a legal problem, contact a lawyer! Our educational musings cannot be relied upon as specific legal advice.