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Regulate: If medical marijuana passes, GovGuam must handle it right

Posted in Guam PDN

Voters will decide in November whether the island should legalizemedical marijuana. If voters approve the measure, the details of implementing and regulating the program must not be overlooked.

For some patients, medical marijuana has been found to alleviate pain and reduce muscle spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. For cancer patients, it can help reduce the extreme nausea caused by chemotherapy and stimulate appetite, allowing them to eat and keep their food down.

The Department of Public Health and Social Services would be responsible for creating rules and regulations if voters legalize medical marijuana. The agency, which already is strained on resources and struggles to meet current mandates, must be given the resources needed to create the rules and regulations and properly enact the measure, if it's approved.

Since 1996, 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that effectively allow patients to use and access medical marijuana despite federal law. Public Health has been looking at other medical marijuana programs in the U.S. mainland, such as Arizona, to see how those areas handle and manage their programs. Guam can learn from the successes and failures in these jurisdictions

Effective medical marijuana laws remove criminal penalties for patients who use and possess medical marijuana with their doctors' approval or certification, and also allow patients to grow their own marijuana and/or allow a provider to do so for the patient.

In Arizona, qualified patients can get get a card that allows for the legal purchase of pot from some sources. The Arizona law removed state-level criminal penalties on the use and possession of marijuana by patients who have "written certification" from their physicians that marijuana may alleviate their conditions. As of 2013, there were more than 43,000 active cardholders in Arizona, according to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Program. About 73 percent of qualifying patients indicated severe and chronic pain as their debilitating medical conditions. Other top debilitating medical conditions included cancer, hepatitis and muscle spasms.

If voters pass this measure, implementing it won't be a small or simple task. Guam will have to grow its own marijuana, so that needs to be regulated. The agency also needs to bring in experts and scientists to ensure the marijuana grown will be safe for use.

Public Health also must figure out how the marijuana will be dispensed and how the agency will manage the process to qualify patients.

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