Tourism-related groups ramped up their opposition to cannabis use, sale and advertising in Tumon, asking the Cannabis Control Board directly during its virtual meeting on Thursday to protect Guam as a family-friendly product.
The groups said tourism-related businesses invested more than $2 billion to build Guam’s tourism, which cannabis can damage, on top of what the COVID-19 pandemic has already dealt this year.
“I really want to appeal to the people on this board to make a very, very strong, conscious decision to protect the industry that 30,000 to 40,000 (local) people are affected by,” tourism business owner Steven Kasperbauer told the board which is tasked by law to roll out Guam’s cannabis industry rules.
The same groups, including Guam Visitors Bureau officials and businessman Mark Baldyga, also addressed the Rotary Club of Guam hours earlier, to drum up opposition to cannabis use in Tumon.
“GVB is not opposed to medicinal use. Unfettered recreational use is the issue,” GVB Vice President Gerry Perez told Rotary Club members and guests.
Once again, Perez presented GVB’s estimates: A cannabis industry will result in a $579 million loss to the Guam economy, inclusive of lost tourist arrivals and job losses.
“Net loss,” he said, could be $486 million, taking into consideration economic gains estimated from having a cannabis industry on Guam.
Cannabis Control Board Chairwoman Vanessa Williams and other board members told tourism groups that most of their concerns – including ensuring the ban on smoking cannabis in “public places” such as restaurants and public beaches in Tumon – are already in the 2019 law that legalized adult cannabis use as well as in the Natasha Protection Act.
The 2019 cannabis legalization law metes out a $100 fine for smoking cannabis in public places.
Hotels, according to CCB members, already prohibit smoking on most, if not all, of their premises.
“To clarify one thing: The board is in charge with creating regulations to implement, enforce and oversee recreational cannabis businesses on Guam. We don’t have the authority to outlaw or prohibit recreational cannabis. That ship has sailed,” Williams said.
Mary Rhodes, Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association president, said the same section in the Cannabis Industry Act of 2019 gives the CCB the authority to make exemptions to the use of cannabis in public places.
Section 8105 of the 2019 law states, in part, “It is unlawful to consume cannabis openly and in public, unless otherwise permitted by regulations duly promulgated and enacted by the Cannabis Control Board.”
Members of the CCB said the draft rules do not provide any such exemption.
Baldyga suggested further clarifying the proposed cannabis industry rules, to state that cannabis use, sale or advertising shall not be permitted in Tumon or within 1,000 feet of an H zone.
Others such as Kasperbauer, said a “compromise” is possible wherein a cannabis industry can still exist in a family-friendly destination, by designating “zones” or districts where legal use, sale and advertising of cannabis can be allowed, but insisting such districts should be “outside of Tumon.”
They said that while there’s criticism about Tumon having strip clubs, massage parlors, sex toy shops and other related businesses that don’t jive with a family-friendly image, these are not considered illegal in Korea and Japan. But they said cannabis is illegal in these Asian countries, and their citizens who are caught using cannabis, even outside Korea, for example, are punished in Korea.
Comments under review
The Cannabis Control Board is now reviewing massive public comments on its draft regulations.
It will meet again this afternoon to go over the comments related to cannabis cultivation, retail cannabis and enforcement and penalties.
After the board finalizes the rules, they then go to the Legislature.
Besides GVB, six other major business groups wrote letters either to the CCB or the Legislature, as well as to the governor, urging them to ban cannabis in Tumon. Some also asked for a ban in advertising legal cannabis use to lure tourists to visit Guam.