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Political Analyst – Derek Thomas
There is no one solution for all of Puerto Rico’s problems. Currently the disaster stricken island needs everything from an entirely new infrastructure to a program to dig itself out of its 70-billion-dollar debt. To make matters worse, its population is fleeing to the mainland US in hopes of carving out a better life.
But should the government of Puerto Rico consider legalizing recreational marijuana?
Say I currently lived in NYC. Where can I go on vacation that I know I can walk around to a dispensary and get an 1/8th of lemon haze? The west coast and pacific north west? The Netherlands? Canada?
But c’mon…I live in New York City. I want to vacation in the tropics. Where can I go?
You could go to a few countries that have decriminalized small amounts, like Mexico or the US Virgin Islands. But you’re still risking a ticket, a mugging, and usually all for a sticks and stems.
If Puerto Rico were to legalize recreational marijuana they would be the only Caribbean island to do so. The cannabis tourism alone, if properly promoted and prepared for, could help turn the country around. US citizens – which is by far the largest market for recreational marijuana tourism in the world – wouldn’t even need a passport to get there. After seeing the incredible tax windfalls that Colorado and others are enjoying its almost shocking that Puerto Rico hasn’t considered this.
Until you look at the medical marijuana laws. It’s a complete disaster.
From the patients’ side of the process, it has become such a convoluted and over-regulated process that many potential patients simply don’t have the resources to be able to get a medical card.
It starts with a visit to the doctors to get a recommendation. Normal enough. But then the recommendation has to be notarized. In PR, the only people who can notarize documents are actual attorneys. So you have to go see a doctor then a lawyer. Then you have to physically take your notarized recommendation into the capital, San Juan, to the Department of Cannabis. A small and ill-prepared department, which possesses only one working medical ID printer, is incredibly behind on providing patients with their cards. In fact, its currently (pre-hurricane) taking months for patients to receive theirs. And when it is finally ready, you have to drive back into San Juan to get pick it up physically (assuming you have a car).
Got your card? Ready to go? Not so fast. Pick a dispensary, and pick well. Whichever you pick is the only dispensary you’ll be allowed to make purchases at. If they go out of business or simply don’t have what you’re looking for, you’ll need to physically go back to the Department of Cannabis and ask to switch shops.
It isn’t much prettier for the entrepreneurial growers on the island either.
Due to the low patient numbers from the backed-up Department of Cannabis and the high costs of doing business in Puerto Rico, dispensaries cannot match the prices most of us in the U.S. are accustomed to. In Puerto Rico a gram may cost as much as $80.
It is a hurdle for patients and businesses. And just like patient applications, businesses are backed up as well. There are currently over 170 medical cannabis business applications waiting to be approved and only 17 dispensaries have been approved since last fall.
Additional over-regulation plagues the businesses once they open as well. A grow must have two trained and qualified security guards on duty at all times – 24/7. A dispensary must have one trained and qualified security guard on duty at all times – 24/7. That’s a big expense for a newly burgeoning industry.
The island itself isn’t the most hospitable to marijuana either. The island hosts a range of different types of mold – up to 14 – that are exclusive to the island and can negatively affect a crop. The high cost of electricity makes indoor grows economically challenging. And the governments testing standards are very high (a good thing, of course), but so are the costs of testing comparatively to the United States.
Along with high costs and slow processes, both patients and businesses have to deal with government incompetence and ignorance. One of the weirdest examples of this is that businesses are allowed to sell traditional medical cannabis, you know flower/bud, but patients are NOT legally allowed to smoke it. They must vaporize it or turn it into another form.
Puerto Rico has a lot of challenges to overcome, both within their marijuana program and as an island as a whole.
If they can get services going again to core hospitality destinations while legalizing and improving their marijuana regulations, it seems safe to assume they may reap the rewards of the deep pockets of marijuana tourists.