Patients Struggle as Medical Marijuana in Guam Faces Delays
Two years ago, voters approved medical marijuana in Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific, but the program remains stalled over the supposed lack of any laboratory on the island to carry out quality control. Patients and their advocates charge that the island’s government is bottle-necking the program by failing to sufficiently fund it. At heated public hearings on the issue last week in the island’s legislature, advocates accused authorities of violating the will of the voters.
Guam became the first U.S. territory to pass a medical marijuana measure in the November 2014 elections. But no Guamanians have yet received any legally sanctioned cannabis. Gov. Eddie Calvo only signed legislation to implement the program in February of this year. And even since then, there has been little progress for medical marijuana in Guam.
Officials credit the delay to a failure of the island’s laboratories to apply for a license to test cannabis, ensuring it is clear of mold or other contaminants. On April 10, officials from the island’s Department of Public Health and Social Services were grilled on the question by senators from Guam’s unicameral legislature.
Dr. Suzanne Sison Kaneshiro, the department’s top public health official, blamed the failure of the government to provide necessary funds to run the testing program. “Since February, we have had no one interested in a lab because it costs $1 million to operate,” Kaneshiro said, according to the Guam Daily Post.
Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr., who introduced the enabling legislation passed in February, mentioned the University of Guam Marine Laboratory as a possibility. But he acknowledged to the Pacific Daily News that the fear of the university losing its federal funding could be an obstacle to this.
In any case, a university representative, Jonas Macapinlac, was on hand to deny that the University of Guam was interested. “The Marine Lab serves a specific purpose and this does not seem like a good fit,” Macapinlac stated, according to the Pacific Daily News. “We would need to consider any possible ramifications to our land grant status and in our ability to receive federal funds.”
Jonathan Savares, one of just 13 patients out of 118 applicants who have been certified under the medical marijuana program, expressed his frustrations. “There are patients that need help who are being discouraged because this program is still sitting here still,” he was quoted by KUAM News. “We’ve been doing this since 2014.”
Andrea Pellacani, of the advocacy group Grassroots Guam, pointed to other hold-ups, including the attorney general’s failure to issue legal guidelines to doctors. “We are extremely disappointed in the legal and medical community on Guam, as it is in the best interest of our entire island for patients to have the legal and medical assistance they need to address the many complex issues in the cannabis space,” she said.
Last November, Grassroots Guam held a public protest demonstration to press for passage of the enabling act, officially known as the Joaquin “KC” Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act. But Pellacani said she didn’t anticipate that getting the law passed would only be the first hurdle.
“I am extremely disappointed in some of the leaders in our community who have decided, for whatever reasons, that this mandate of the people is just better off being ignored. All it takes is some education and real conversations, but we can’t move forward when the conversations won’t even be entertained,” she was quoted saying by Pacific Daily News. “It was a mandate, not an option, that continues to be disregarded by some we have put into office and some we have entrusted with our lives in our community.”
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