Colorado official recommends recreational cannabis for Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – All speculation used as a diverging point between detractors and advocates on the reality of medicinal and recreational cannabis sales in Colorado dissipated Tuesday after a legislator from that state, House Finance Committee Chairman Daniel Pabón, appeared before a joint public hearing by the House and Senate to discuss Senate Bill 340, which would establish the Medicinal Law to regulate local use of the plant.
During the hearing in the Capitol’s Yiye Ávila Hall, the Colorado official spoke candidly of that jurisdiction’s reality regarding its management of the novel industry. He assured that the efficient and responsible development of the cannabis industry, both medicinal and recreational, could be part of the solution to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.
Pabón said Colorado collected more than $140 million annually from recreational cannabis; drug-related crimes saw a 20% decline; drug cartels were dismantled systematically; and 30%, or $33 million, of the revenue was allocated to law and order programs to prevent drug abuse; among other data.
However, the official said it wasn’t a smooth process because there was fierce opposition from the conservative sectors in the state, which he added is as polarized on the matter as Puerto Rico.
He explained that in 2012, voters approved the use of recreational cannabis, but the Legislature didn’t, acknowledging that even he voted against the bill, under the impression that Colorado would become a “guinea pig” to experiment on the substance.
“What many voters told us is they weren’t interested in the use of recreational marijuana, but they didn’t want drug cartels and criminals in the state. So in 2017, statistics show that crime has been reduced significantly in Colorado after legalizing recreational marijuana; violent crime and others related to that substance. In some cases, there was a 5% to 10% decrease, and up to 20% in specific crimes,” the official said.
“The other issue people asked about was marijuana use among the youth, for them not to have the impression that using the substance wasn’t out of the ordinary. But the response is no. We didn’t see a significant rise in marijuana use among youth since the legislation,” he added.
Pabón explained that after they put in effect the Cole Memo–which established new priorities for federal prosecutors who operate in states that have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana–there was a substantial increase in dispensaries in Denver, the state’s capital. This prompted the state’s Legislature to create legislation to address concerns regarding this industry.
“If you think you are stepping onto slippery ground, don’t worry, that happened to us, too, and Colorado survived,” he said.
Pabón also praised the way the government of Puerto Rico prioritizes research.
“Having traveled the world investigating this subject, I can say with certainty that Puerto Rico is on the brink of leading research and development [of medicinal cannabis] on a global scale unlike any other place on the planet,” he said.
“It is far easier for you because of the scientific base you already have here with the University of Puerto Rico, the Medical Sciences campus, and other prestigious institutions. Not only that, you have a history in the world of pharmaceuticals; with that background you have a base of knowledge that doesn’t exist in any other country in the world. To me, that is the definitive point, but, again, how you achieve that is an important part of the discussion,” he added as he regretted that in the United States and other parts of the world there aren’t concrete studies about cannabis’ benefits for different medical conditions.
The legislator also assured that many national studies don’t take into account minority groups. However, he said Puerto Rico offers a unique space of diversity that is optimal to conduct more thorough research on the effects of cannabis on different groups.
Pabón also said that one of his state’s goals was for the cannabis industry to be self-sufficient, without the need to allocate public funds for its operations, unlike other industries in the state that are subsidized with public funds.
“A great deal of our success is linked to the revenue system we established, and that we invested greatly on substance abuse programs, as well as educational programs about cannabis use among minors. So it went well for us thanks to those investments,” he explained.
Pabón said that a sizable portion of revenue from this industry is allocated to construction, maintenance and public infrastructure improvement in the state. Because of this initiative, the legislator affirmed that many detractors accepted its legalization.