| Pacific Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK
Recreational cannabis is expected to bring about 31,000 more tourists to Guam during the first year of legal operation, with visitors spending about $1.3 million on cannabis, according to an economic impact report for the new industry.
That’s on top of $10 million in projected cannabis spending by Guam residents.
However, the Guam Visitors Bureau has taken a stand against allowing cannabis businesses to sell or advertise their products in Tumon, which is the island’s primary tourism district.
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The Cannabis Control Board last month held public hearings on the proposed rules and regulations for recreational cannabis. It plans to hold several follow-up meetings, starting Dec. 17, to discuss the different issues and suggestions raised during the hearings and to possibly amend the document.
Recreational cannabis has been legal on Guam since April 2019, and adults 21 years and older can legally consume it in private, possess it in public and grow it at home, with limits on the number of plants that can be grown at the same time.
But selling it or trading it for anything of value remains illegal until the rules and regulations are in place and until the government’s seed-to-sale tracking system is operating.
No Tumon prohibition
As currently written, the rules and regulations drafted by the cannabis board allow cannabis to be grown and manufactured only in agricultural and industrial zones, and to be sold only in commercial and industrial zones.
According to Guam law, all land in Tumon Bay has been zoned “H Resort-Hotel Zone,” since the late 1970s, unless the property owner decided to opt out and keep the existing zone.
The proposed rules and regulations also prohibit cannabis businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or areas where youth “generally congregate,” such as parks, playgrounds and child care centers.
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The Guam Visitors Bureau submitted written testimony during the public hearings, stating Guam is being marketed as a family-friendly destination, and “it is crucial that the rules and regulations for a new cannabis industry do not allow for this international image to be doubted.”
GVB Board Chairman Sonny Ada said adult use cannabis has provided economic benefit in some parts of the country, but Guam’s visitors “are very different,” from conservative Asian countries that have harsh penalties for cannabis use.
“From beaches, parks, sidewalks, bus stops and even hotel rooms, we need to ensure that our visitors and local families are not exposed in any way to unwanted cannabis effects that may disturb their experience of our island destination,” Ada stated.
Cannabis board member Adrian Cruz, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture, last month said he’s “just not buying” GVB’s argument and noted that the visitor industry has allowed other adult businesses to operate in Tumon, such as strip clubs, bars and massage parlors.
“If Guam is going to have a new facet to its economy, that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said, adding the cannabis board is in place to regulate the industry so it’s safe and does not turn into the “Wild West.”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” cannabis board member Theresa Arriola said in response to Cruz’s comments. Arriola, director of the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, also is a member of the GVB board. She said GVB needed to make its position known for the record with respect to the cannabis industry.
Opposition to cannabis businesses
Former GVB Chairman Mark Baldyga, who owns and operates several tourism businesses on island, including the SandCastle Guam, said he opposes cannabis businesses in Tumon.
“It will result in a significant drop in arrivals over time, without question. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know the consumer,” he said.
Baldyga said the question of cannabis’ impact on the tourism market also raises the issue of whether strip clubs and massage parlors should be prohibited in Tumon.
“When I chaired GVB and wrote Tourism 2020, we had quite a few discussions around this. Most of the board was supportive of moving them out,” Baldyga said.
Baldyga said Guam should consider removing all strip clubs and massage parlors from Tumon by prohibiting news business licenses from being issued and by phasing out the existing strip club and massage parlor businesses during the next decade.
An alternative would be to locate those types of businesses in a “red light” district, away from the main hotel area, he said.
Then-Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz in 2010 introduced a bill that proposed rezoning Tumon and requiring adult entertainment establishments in one designated area. The measure didn’t pass.
The cannabis board’s next meeting, which will be held online, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 17.