Cannabis in Puerto Rico is legal when used for medical purposes, but is illegal when used for recreational purposes. The legislation to ban weed in this U.S. territory was passed in 1932 and penalties for those caught growing, selling, importing, purchasing, and consuming cannabis include not less than one month and not more than one year in prison.
Medical cannabis law in Puerto Rico
In May 2015, an executive order was signed permitting the use of cannabis for medical purposes. However, medical dispensaries in the country only started opening their doors to the public in early 2017. And because Puerto Rico is not very tolerant of cannabis use, smoking THC in any form is strictly prohibited. This means that patients can use medical cannabis as topicals, edibles, and other forms, but they are not allowed to smoke it.
Pursuant to Puerto Rico’s medical cannabis law, patients can buy a month’s worth of supply at a time. However, they are registered in a database that would prevent them from going to multiple dispensaries in a day.
Moreover, under the current medical cannabis law, patients can only consume the drug in a private residence.
How can patients avail of medical cannabis?
You will need to go through several steps, wait a considerable amount of time, and spend a considerable amount of money before you are allowed to purchase medical cannabis. First, you need to get a recommendation from your doctor to use the drug. Then, you need to get your doctor’s recommendation certified by a notary or a lawyer. You will then have to take your certified recommendation to the Department of Cannabis, which is in charge of reviewing patients’ paperwork. This is when the waiting game begins.
It may take some time for the government office to process a patient’s documents, so you may have to go there and follow up with them as often as needed until your medical cannabis card is ready for pickup. By the time you get your card, you may already have spent around $100 to $150. The long process alone is not great news for patients who live far from San Juan and for those who are not fit to travel to the Department of Cannabis.
Once you have you medical cannabis card, you will need to pick a cannabis dispensary. In Puerto Rico, a patient is limited to only one dispensary. This means you can only buy your medicine from this one and nowhere else.
This also means that if you are traveling to a different city in the country and you run out of meds, you will have to wait until you get back home and re-stock meds from your home dispensary. Moreover, if you already picked a shop and discovered that it does not carry the particular medicine you need, you will have to go to the Department of Cannabis again and ask for permission to switch dispensaries.
Challenges faced by Puerto Rico’s medical cannabis industry
Dispensaries in the country cannot match the prices of medical cannabis offered in the U.S. due to the low patient numbers and the little competition among cannabis businesses. This is a hurdle for both businesses and patients.
Another challenge is the high costs involved in doing business here.
For one, electricity rates in the country are more than double compared to the average U.S. rate. Moreover, growing cannabis plants outdoors is not easy due to the constant rain and the molds.
Additionally, businesses are required to test for everything, including heavy-metals to terpenes. That means having to shell out an average of $1,200 in laboratory costs per batch.
Security is also one of the largest expenses for cannabis businesses. Each cannabis plant must have two highly-trained and highly-paid security guards 24-7, and each dispensary must have one. With Puerto Rico’s economy in current shambles and with crime rates on the rise, security really is a concern.
The biggest hurdle faced by both patients and businesses, however, is the incompetence of the government. One proof of this is the fact that many patient applications and many business applications are stalled and still waiting for approval.