SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO. 2 April, 2014 — The Puerto Rican Senate is debating the legalization of medical marijuana and the establishment of cultivation on the Caribbean island. Advocates claim legalization will dramatically cut crime and judiciary costs.
The Senate is considering decriminalizing the consumption of small amounts of the drug for medical purposes and allowing approved patients to grow a few plants in their homes. Possession is punishable with up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000 at present, but harsh sentences have not curbed the island illegal drug trade.
Last year, Representative Carlos Vargas proposed the bill to legalize possession of up to 14 grams and regulate the sale of cannabis. If approved his bill would make Puerto Rico the first US overseas territory to legalize the drug. Despite growing enthusiasm for the measure, the Puerto Rican Department of Finance has asked for more time to investigate possible impacts on the economy and Health Commission president, Lydia Mendez, has proposed a number of changes to the legislation.
“Both the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture have said that there have to be specific regulations in place that govern how the drug is prescribed and to whom,” said Mendez.
In December of last year, Uruguay became the first country in history to legalize the consumption, sale and cultivation of cannabis. Uruguan president, José Mujica said his policy aims to undercut the illicit drugs trade by charging less for cannabis than the black market value. The United Nations condemned the policy as “dangerous” and in violation of the 1961 international narcotics convention.
Puerto Rico’s economic slump seems to have opened the door for debate on legalization. With nearly half the island’s population living in poverty and the government billions in debt, the possibility of tax revenue from legal sales of cannabis is attracting support.