The general election ballot in November will have a referendum question asking voters if they favor the growing, processing and distribution of industrial hemp in the territory, if a bill approved Wednesday by the Legislature is signed into law.
A referendum question on whether the territory should consider allowing medicinal use of marijuana was voted down.
"No one is asking you to vote on legislation on medicinal marijuana," said Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, who sponsored both items. “All this will do is let us know if there is interest in this sort of legislation in the community.”
Both items were the subject of recent town hall meetings on all three islands, in which many residents testified in support of the measures and a smaller number expressed concern it could increase violent crime or harm tourism.
Regarding medical marijuana, Sen. Alvin Williams said he understands the perspective of those who testified in support, but is concerned that there was a "lack of scientific testimony" to help provide hard data on the subject. Williams said he was not yet persuaded.
"I understand it helps some out, but we have people in the community who abuse it. I've had friends who have had problems," Williams said.
Sen. Louis Patrick Hill said he "admired" Nelson for bringing up the topic, saying it "shows a lot of courage" in an election year. Hill said he saw no harm in a referendum.
"Actually I am not going to be bringing any measures on marijuana,” he said, later adding, “I don't think it is in the best interest of the community to arrest young people standing by the side of the road smoking a spliff and send them to jail.”
“For what?” Hill continued. “When there are people getting wasted on scotch in the bars all the time, stumbling, getting in fights and throwing up?"
The senate voted unanimously in favor of having a referendum on industrial hemp, with Sen. Craig Barshinger absent.
Voting for the medical marijuana referendum were Hill, Nelson, Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Shawn-Michael Malone, Ronald Russell and Sammuel Sanes. Voting nay were Williams, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Neville James, Usie Richards, Celestino White and Janette Millin-Young. Sens. Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly abstained. Barshinger was absent.