Government urged not to miss chance to research cannabis
SAN JUAN – For to Dr. José Rodríguez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus’ (RCM by its Spanish initials) biochemistry department, Puerto Rico has a “unique opportunity”: not missing the boat and joining the early research on medicinal cannabis.
“I’ve seen that boat in front of me—in terms of research—so many times that this time we must hop on the boat and conduct extensive research that is not only useful for the people of Puerto Rico but for the whole world as well,” Rodríguez said yesterday before a group of lawmakers from different parties during a joint public hearing on Senate Bill 340, which proposes to lay the groundwork for medical cannabis on the island.
Representing the RCM, Rodríguez submitted a series of amendments to the bill in order to prioritize the research, as proposed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
The amendments range from establishing a more rigorous process for selecting and training “budtenders” (a term used for those who dispatch marijuana), to using the RCM and its resources to share this knowledge with those who venture into the industry. He also suggested setting up a research fund that would receive a percentage of cannabis sales to develop the medicinal industry.
“The RCM has the professors and top-tier professionals [necessary] to be available to whichever agency is in charge of executing the public policy included on this legislation. The RCM is poised to contribute its talents in terms of training, research and development so as to strengthen the scientific component of cannabis use,” the biochemist said.
Rodríguez noted that, at the moment, he teaches a graduate course at the RCM focusing on the development and use of cannabinoids in different medical conditions, an element that may be introduced in other curricula in the coming months. Therefore, he recommended that a pharmacist should supervise the distribution of marijuana derivatives at all dispensing sites since they possess the right knowledge.
He also recommended that the bill should include creating a doctor-patient relationship at the cannabis dispensing site, eliminating the duration of the treatment because it could vary, adding more professionals and a consumer representative within the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board and establishing limits on quantities of cannabis to be dispensed.
During the hearing, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz completely closed the door to legalizing recreational marijuana, although he acknowledged that “no one can oppose an alternative for patients’ pain” like the medical use of the cannabis plant. “Recreational [marijuana] is not going to pass, I guarantee that.”
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Luis Vega Ramos clarified at the hearing that the bill does not alter the local Traffic Law, so driving under the effects of cannabis, as well as other controlled substances, remains illegal.
Like the RCM, the Police, the Cooperatives Supervision & Insurance Corporation (Cossec by its Spanish acronym), the Insurance Commissioner’s Office and the Department of Agriculture favored the bill.