Marijuana cultivation law brings up old, new concerns for Guam

By Haidee V Eugenio for Pacific Daily News

A new law allowing qualified patients and caregivers to grow cannabis at home brings up old and new concerns about Guam’s medical marijuana program, including a lack of funding to monitor the home program, an absence of legal guidance for doctors, and where to get the seeds.

Lawmakers and the governor approved a program to allow patients and caregivers to grow their own cannabis because the island's medical marijuana program, approved by voters in 2014, has not been implemented. Cannabis can be grown at home until it becomes available at dispensaries.

There is no indication the ongoing delay in licensing and opening medical marijuana dispensaries will be resolved any time soon.

Medical cannabis workshop

On Nov. 3, Grassroots Guam will host a medical cannabis workshop at the Guam Museum, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

"We hope these speakers will bring forward interested patients, doctors, lawyers, bankers and even 2018 election hopefuls to discuss possible solutions to address the critical issues that have caused delays in the program thus far," Grassroots Guam managing partner Andrea Pellacani said in a statement.

The workshop will feature two keynote speakers, including Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, and returning speaker Nic Easley, CEO of 3C Consulting, according to Grassroots Guam.

Concerns on growing marijuana legally

If qualified patients soon turn in home cultivation applications, the Department of Public Health and Social Services may not have inspectors to check the proposed growing sites, for lack of funding, according to Dr. Suzanne Kaneshiro, Chief Public Health Officer for the agency.

Without inspectors, there is no guarantee the marijuana will be grown according to the law, which limits where it can be grown and how many plants can be grown.

"Home cultivation is almost legalizing marijuana because how are you going to go to each home to see how many plants you have and who’s going to say you’re not going to give to your friends or friend’s friends or the caretaker, etc., or sell it?" said Dr. Thomas Shieh, president of the Guam Medical Association.

The Guam Medical Association does not take any position on the medical marijuana program, other than continuing to advocate for patients' safety and well-being, Shieh said.

No guaranteed funding

Lawmakers years ago appropriated $100,000 to Public Health so it could develop rules and regulations for the medical marijuana program, but there has been no additional funding and Public Health has been absorbing the costs associated with the program, Kaneshiro said.

Lack of funding has prevented the government from procuring a marijuana tracking system for the medical marijuana program, she said.

Five local and mainland-based entities in June responded to Public Health’s request for interest in providing the tracking system, Kaneshiro said, but Public Health can't take the next step and issue a request for proposals because there is no guaranteed funding.

Hoping Legislature will provide funding

Leo Casil, acting director of Public Health, said the department will do its best to implement the program using the resources it has, while at the same time hoping the Legislature will provide funding.

Among other tasks, Casil said, Public Health needs to develop a database of eligible patients and provide it to the Guam Police Department so police will know whether a resident is legally authorized to grow cannabis.

There's still no private entity interested in setting up a mandatory independent testing laboratory for the medical marijuana program, Casil and Kaneshiro said.

Lawmakers attempted to get past that stumbling block by allowing the governor to decide whether to waive the testing requirement, but Gov. Eddie Calvo vetoed that legislation, stating lawmakers need to make the decision.

Casil and Kaneshiro thought there would be a flurry of inquiries and applications after the home cultivation bill became law, but there have been only a handful of inquiries so far, they said.

Concerns with how to cultivate plants

Jonathan Savares, 33, a qualified medical marijuana patient, said he obtained the home cultivation application form but is not going to submit it yet until he does more research on the best option for his situation.

“Where to get seeds is the magic question,” he said. “I am really unsure where to acquire them right now, and until further clarifications are sent out, I don’t want to move forward.

He plans on designating a qualified caregiver to cultivate the marijuana plants for him, he said, because he does not want it in his family house.

Savares said he also has to consider the costs associated with the cultivation process, including how much he's supposed to pay a caregiver and the cost of utilities.

"Those are the questions that are making it difficult for me as a patient to figure out, that's going to work out," he said.

'If you can grow a tomato plant, you can grow cannabis'

“If you can grow a tomato plant, you can grow cannabis,” according to Susan Gress, co-founder of Washington-based Vashon Velvet, a family-run sustainable cannabis farm.

Guam law allows qualified patients and their designated caregivers to cultivate and possess as many as six flowering plants and 12 juvenile plants at a time, grown indoors.

“If you grow indoors, you will need a light that plugs into any household outlet. Leave the light on for 24 hours until buds form, then leave it on 12 hours a day," Gress said. "That's really all there is to it."

Issuing legal guidelines to doctors

Grassroots Guam, which has been providing public education on medical cannabis, said it would be helpful if Guam's attorney general issues legal guidelines to doctors who would be involved in the medical marijuana program.

Shieh said the Guam Medical Association, which gets guidance from the American Medical Association, advocates for patient safety and more research about medical marijuana.