- It was recently announced that Puerto Rico will begin producing cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2016. The authorities are now debating a draft bill that specifies how to regulate any matters relating to cannabis licenses and production on the island, and what requirements must be followed for anything to do with the growth of the plant. Here we offer a detailed explanation of the state’s growing program, which is pioneering in the Caribbean region.
This spring the governor of Puerto Rico signed an executive order authorising with immediate effect, that the Department of Health could allow the use of medical cannabis and derivative products within the territory. Alejandro García Padilla stated that the decision was a “significant step” in the health sector and something that was needed in order to improve the quality of life of the island’s citizens. He believed that patients would see this step as a source of new hope.
Padilla specified that, three months following the measure being put into action, it would be necessary to create a detailed report about how the decision was being implemented, how it was being received and the measures that should be taken in the future.
The Department of Health has created a first draft that is being discussed, outlining the regulations that will be made in the program for the medicinal use and research of cannabis on the island. Following discussion, the definitive report must be presented to the Health Secretary, Ana Ríus, for final approval.
Among other aspects, the document explains matters to the plant’s production, manufacturing, distribution and research. As to be expected, it also outlines everything relating to the technical, bureaucratic and financial requirements of the crop growing that will begin in 2016.
Although the land used for production has not yet been selected, it has been specified that the bodies responsible for controlling the process will be the Departments of Health, and Agriculture, and the University of Puerto Rico. These institutions, as well as the police, will have to draw up internal regulations, for growing as well as research.
The marijuana growers will be authorised farmers, chosen using strict criteria. Among other things, people under the age of 21, as well anyone that has been accused or convicted for any drug related crime, tax fraud or falsification, will not be able to participate in the growing, manufacturing, production and distribution of the product.
The draft bill also stipulates that the use of chemical products on crops is banned due to their direct and indirect effects on public health and especially on patients that need the plant. The cleaner and healthier the plant, the better the results will be when used. As if this was not enough, growers will have to use two armed guards 24 hours a day to maintain control and security in the enclosure where the plant is grown.
Ana Victoria de Jesús, director of Legal Affairs at the Department of Agriculture, has stated that these specifications differ a lot from those of traditional crops “due to the seriousness of the matter”. She also believes that it is necessary to develop an internal mechanism for people working on the plantations. She believes it is a challenge and a real milestone in the island’s history. Meanwhile, Héctor Iván Cordero, president of the Puerto Rican Association of Growers, has stated that there are many local growers interested in taking part in the new experience.
On the other hand, the growth of Sativa and Indica cannabis will mainly take place in the ground, where the seed is placed directly into the soil in order for the plant to germinate and grow during the weeks it needs in order to flower. However, hydroponic systems that need a substrate, and growing bags or beds will also be used. The first step for the crop will be to obtain seeds and develop plants. This is scheduled to begin in January 2016. Meanwhile, the regulations of the Departments of Health and Agriculture, the University of Puerto Rico and the Police, must be finalised between November and December this year.
The sector of growers that specialise in hydroponic seed sowing (about 100 people in total on the island, as opposed to 2,000 who work with the land) has expressed interest in the matter. Lettuce and coriander are particularly important crops on the island. Some growers are already considering a trip to Colorado in order to take specific courses and learn more about federal laws that regulate this sector. Whatever happens, growing will be limited to a certain number of chosen farmers that will produce the quantity needed continuously.
As Cordero explained, these crops must be produced in controlled environments, such as closed facilities with high standards in terms of quality and security. Furthermore, they require electrical energy, water pumps, refrigerating systems to control the temperature and all of the necessary controls for pests.
This will make it an expensive and delicate process. Growers will need to have sufficient money to make the initial investment and face annual expenditure of 5,000 dollars (around 4,500 euros). All of the growing costs can amount to more than 200,000 dollars (about 180,000 euros).
The cannabis produced will only be authorised for use in the form of tablets, oral drops, inhalers, topical treatments, ointments, creams and vaporisers. It will be used for certain illnesses and symptoms such as cancer, aids, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, arthrosis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis, among others. Additionally, patients can only medicate with the new medicine in the privacy of their homes. Therefore, they will need authorisation from doctors (who themselves will need to be accredited the Department of Health) and a certificate that will have to be renewed within one year.
The new regulation has been warmly welcomed on the island. Jaime Perelló, president of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, stated that he supported the executive order as he believes it is a measure that is “moving in the right direction”. In 2013, Puerto Rican legislators debated a legislative proposal that was also devised to allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. However, the vote never took place.
This change in a positive direction and Puerto Rico’s interest in doing things well has caused surprise among activists, who have welcomed the move with open arms. Also, the measures and demanding specifications for all growing related matters seem to suggest that the authorities in this territory are really taking a serious stance towards a matter that is crucial for the health of their citizens.