For the first time, medical marijuana dispensaries have opened and begun operating in Puerto Rico.
Medical marijuana dispensaries have begun operating in the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, the Associated Press reports. Two years after outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order to legalize the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of medical cannabis, three dispensaries opened their doors before the beginning of the year.
“We’re taking a significant step in the area of health that is crucial to our development and high expectations for their quality of life,” García-Padilla said in a statement at the time of legalization. “I am sure that many patients will receive appropriate treatment that will offer them new hope.”
Qualifying conditions for medical marijuana under Puerto Rico’s law include multiple sclerosis, HIV and AIDS, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, Parkinson’s disease, and other illnesses that are to responsive to traditional medicine. Patients have legal access to non-smokable marijuana products, such as pills, creams, patches and oral drops. Smoking and cultivating marijuana, even for medical purposes, remains illegal. Dispensaries are allowed to serve medical marijuana to visitors that are qualified in other states.
“It is a historic day for Puerto Rico and NextGen Pharma is proud to be part of this moment. Today sees the fulfillment of a promise in favor of the right of thousands of patients in Puerto Rico to a better quality of life,” NextGen Pharma managing partner Carmen Serrano said at the opening of the company’s dispensary in San Juan.
García-Padilla’s effort to legalize medical marijuana was partly motivated by the territory’s nearly $70 billion public debt crisis. The law applies a 11.5 percent tax on medical marijuana sales. While an economic impact study has yet to be done, the rough estimates that have been thrown out have the program generating about $50 million in sales per month once it’s been in operation for a couple of years.
Puerto Rico’s new Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, who assumed office January 2, has said that he supports García-Padilla’s medical marijuana initiative. He added, however, that he expects to change the regulations created by the Department of Health to make the program’s standards more strict. The program now, he claims, allows people to access cannabis for recreational purposes.
“It all starts at the controls to be able to produce marijuana. There are already well established standards for marijuana counting, bar codes, seed control, how many produce… there must be very strict standards to ensure that this does not translate into recreational use and I do not see them in the process we have now,” Rosselló said in August, according to Puerto Rico newspaper El Nuevo Día.
As of January 2, nearly 2,000 patients had already registered with Puerto Rico’s health department to obtain medical marijuana. Twenty-three firms on the island have been licensed to grow, sell, or process cannabis or related products.
Puerto Rico joins 28 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to have operating comprehensive medical marijuana programs.