As President Joe Biden announced he would pardon all prior federal offenses of marijuana possession, state and territory marijuana policies are in the spotlight once again. Of the five territories, all except American Samoa have decriminalized or legalized marijuana in some capacity (usually for medical use). Each territory has a different policy.
Marijuana for medical or adult use is illegal in American Samoa, with harsh penalties and no public access program.
Guam has both an adult use system and medical use regulated system. The Joaquin (KC) Concepcion II Compassionate Cannabis Use Act legalized medical marijuana and home cultivation in 2013. Guam Cannabis Industries Act, passed in 2019, legalized the adult use of marijuana. The bill also established a board to regulate the production and sale of the substance. Citizens 21 or older can cultivate and possess marijuana, though public consumption is illegal.
Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands legalized marijuana in 2018 when Governor Ralph Torres (R) signed the Taulamwaar Sensible CNMI Cannabis Act. Marijuana for medical purposes and adult use is legal, allowing adults who are 21 or older and medical marijuana patients to purchase limited amounts and cultivate the plant. A new Cannabis Commission regulates and licenses six types of marijuana businesses: producers, processors, retailers, wholesalers, lounges, and testing facilities. Unlike other territories that have legalized the substance, there is no regulated medical program.
Puerto Rico legalized medical marijuana in 2015. The executive order established a comprehensive medical cannabis program that currently has over 100,000 patients. Governor Alejandro García Padilla (PDP, D) explained at the time, “We’re taking a significant step in the area of health that is fundamental to our development and quality of life. I am sure that many patients will receive appropriate treatment that will offer them new hope. The medicinal use we are adopting is an innovative measure to ensure the welfare and a better quality of life for these patients.” Adult use is still illegal. After President Biden’s announcement that he would pardon federal marijuana possession convictions, state Senator José “Chaco” Vargas Vidot (I) introduced a bill similarly expunging convictions for low-level marijuana possession. Governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) said that he would not follow the example set by the president’s executive order, asserting no prisoners are being held for possession of marijuana in Puerto Rico.
US Virgin Islands
The US Virgin Islands established a comprehensive medical marijuana program in 2019. Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D) has already called for reforms similar to the ones put in place by President Biden, emphasizing the potential tax revenue from marijuana markets and the benefits of marijuana legalization. While medical use is legal, adult use remains illegal—though the substance is decriminalized with fewer penalties.
Each territory is developing different policies regarding marijuana: Guam has fully legalized marijuana; the Northern Mariana Islands has done the same but has not established regulated systems; the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have legalized medical marijuana with regulated programs, and American Samoa still outlaws the substance. The new federal policy could have an effect on these laws, though only time will tell.