When Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla used his executive authority in May of 2015 to effectively legalize medical marijuana throughout the U.S. territory, the order gave health officials three months to hash out a plan that would ensure the cultivation and sale of cannabis products by late 2016. Earlier this month, the Puerto Rico Health Department announced that it had finally approved the first draft of the regulations intended to carry the industry through its newfound endeavor of bringing legal weed to those with debilitating conditions.
Stealing a chapter from the book of conservative pot dealers like New York and Minnesota, Puerto Rico’s program will only allow patients with a recommendation from a doctor to buy products derived from the cannabis plant — smoking marijuana will still be considered a punishable offense. This means patients suffering from a small list of qualified conditions, such as AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, arthrosis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis, will be given permission to walk into a dispensary and purchase pills, oils, vapors, topical ointments and other expensive products to treat the symptoms of their respective disorders. However, the moment a patient attempts to smoke a joint, they could be charged with a crime.
When it comes to growing, there is no provision attached that would allow the existence of home cultivation. Instead, licensed growers will conduct every aspect of cannabis production from nurturing the crop right down to manufacturing the products to be sold in the dispensaries.
Although there has been a great deal of excitement surrounding the governor’s decision to swoop in and force the government to legalize medical marijuana after the Puerto Rico legislators failed to take a proposal seriously back in 2013, the outcome of this action appears likely to result in the same kind of disastrous program that is currently putting pot businesses operating in states with restrictive rules on the edge of financial ruin.
Essentially, the rules restricting the way cannabis can be consumed in Puerto Rico will keep many patients frequenting the black market because legal pot products are destined to be too expensive for many to afford. In New York, where smoking marijuana is prohibited under the Compassionate Care Act, some patients have reported spending as much as $2,000 per month for what the state considers an acceptable form of cannabis.
Another major concern is the absence of common conditions, such as chronic pain and anxiety disorders, which are behind some of the most successful medical marijuana programs in the United States. By only allowing the seriously ill to have access to this medicine, Puerto Rico’s medical marijuana program will only service between a couple of hundred to a few thousands patients – hardly enough to support an entire industry.
Meanwhile, much like most of the continental United States, the possession of marijuana is still considered a criminal offense in Puerto Rico. Even the smallest amount of weed is a felony offense, and those busted for this crime face penalties of between 2-5 years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. Yet state officials believe the nation’s policies on pot are still “moving in the right direction.”
What do you think? Is the Puerto Rican medical marijuana program unworkable for those who are most in need?