The ups and downs of medical marijuana in Puerto Rico highlight the need for continued improvement across the entire industry. In January, Medicine Man Technologies was thrilled to see dispensaries open their doors in Puerto Rico. Since then, the medical marijuana program has created job opportunities and tax revenue, but its progress has been hindered by issues such as a complex patient application process, ongoing changes and of course, millions of dollars in damage caused by Hurricane Maria in September.
The History of Medical Marijuana in Puerto Rico
In 2015, then Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana and gave Puerto Rico’s Health Department authority over developing a new program. Since that point, two different “Regulations” were passed to control the use, cultivation, production and distribution of medical marijuana in Puerto Rico, each adjusting how the industry would be regulated.
The latest iteration, signed in July of this year by Governor Ricardo Rossello, provides more clarity while allowing previous regulations (No. 8766) to remain in place until an improved framework can be agreed upon. According to the new Medical Cannabis Act, “the preceding administration acted recklessly by
introducing medical cannabis in Puerto Rico and legalizing such an industry…which consisted of merely
two and a half pages — without prescribing the rules to implement it effectively and responsibly.”
The Medical Cannabis Act keeps recreational marijuana, home cultivation and smoking for medical use illegal. However, patients may use pills, oral drops, oral inhalers, topicals, suppositories, patches, edibles and vaporizing cannabis flower or concentrate. Qualifying conditions include:
- Cancer and Chemotherapy for Cancer
- HIV / AIDS
- ALS and MS
- Crohn’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Arthritis, including Rheumatoid
- Anxiety Disorders
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Hepatitis C
The Act also loosens current regulations on non-residents to potentially boost tourism, expands its focus on medical marijuana research and clarifies tax matters. One issue that it doesn’t address, but may be changed by a Regulatory Board of Medical Cannabis, is the cumbersome application process for medical marijuana ID cards and a requirement for patients to choose and purchase from just one dispensary.
Medical Marijuana in Puerto Rico Hit Hard by Hurricane Maria
When discussing the ups and downs of medical marijuana in Puerto Rico, one of the most significant downs is Hurricane Maria which made a direct hit as a nearly Category 5 storm on September 20th.
Once the potential answer to the island’s $74 billion debt, medical marijuana in Puerto Rico is struggling even more after Hurricane Maria. At Medicine Man Technologies, it was disheartening to see the initial devastation, grow facilities with massive structural damage, as well as crops and equipment destroyed. Now, two months later, the industry is still trying to secure the electricity and potable water needed to fully resume operations.
Compounding the struggle are issues that Puerto Rico shares with other cultivators in California where fires wiped out numerous cannabis farms in the Napa area. First and foremost, the inability to qualify for disaster assistance due to marijuana still being illegal at the federal level. Second, a lack of insurance for grow facilities, crops, equipment and other expenses. Even emergency bank loans are out of reach for a cash-only industry, which means many businesses affected by these natural disasters are a total loss.
The only upside is that these recent events have spurred a dialogue surrounding the issues cannabis companies face. After paying big dollars for licensing, investing in their infrastructure and complying with higher tax regulations, it only makes sense that they should be seen as legitimate businesses able to qualify for insurance coverage and other protections.
Moving Forward in Puerto Rico and Beyond
While the ups and downs of medical marijuana in Puerto Rico continue, Medicine Man Technologies hopes that businesses on the island will be able to recover and the coming changes to the local industry will provide the support they need to thrive. We also look forward to seeing the discussions surrounding disaster relief and insurance lead to real change that’s been long overdue.
Of course, if you are looking to open or invest in a legal marijuana enterprise, please get in touch with our team of experts for a consultation. Let us guide you through each step and help you succeed.