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Cannabis research suggested as income source for UPR

By on January 30, 2017

SAN JUAN – At a time when the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) faces possible cuts in government funding, venturing into sectors of the medical cannabis industry could represent a measure for economic growth for both the institution and the island. In fact, this was one of the options presented by student representatives at a meeting that took place last week in La Fortaleza.

The proposal is a comprehensive one that would involve the immersion of the UPR in various aspects of the cannabis industry, from a being certification entity to the investigation of new products. Salvatore Casale, director of UPR’s Technology Transfer Office (OTT by its spanish initials), said it is the right time for Puerto Rico to enter the industry because of its great development potential.

An option to consider is for the UPR to become a cannabis distributor for other academic institutions. For an academic and research institution to conduct experiments with cannabis, the plant must be purchased by an institution accredited by the National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA). Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only certified academic institution.


The University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus (File)

The UPR could also go into research and development of products with therapeutic purposes. Another option mentioned by Casale is that the university could serve as a quality control entity, or “independent certifying entity.” This would imply that the UPR would “evaluate and certify all cannabis sold for medicinal purposes,” Casale said.

For the OTT director, this would not only be a scientific, but also business proposal because it is suggested the program be supported by a percentage of the tax collected from the sale of medical cannabis. This means it would be the private sector that would pay for certification.

In addition, certification would seek to ensure that medicinal cannabis users have greater confidence in the quality and effectiveness of their product since the UPR would verify not only the quality of the product, but would also ensure that the drug is the indicated compound for each condition to be treated.  

“This is not just a university project, it’s a project for the country. Academic innovation is essential for a transformation from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy,” said Salvatore Casale, who added that this can generate an “ecosystem” of intellectual property production. He also emphasized that both the Molecular Sciences building and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, among others, represent large investments that have already been made and that have a lot of potential for innovation.

It should be noted that the proposal that the UPR enter the cannabis industry is not new. There is already a draft of the regulation for internal management prepared by the Vice Presidency of Research and Innovation. Also, during the last four years interagency meetings were held in which the UPR, the Department of Health and the Police participated.

Meanwhile, Casale considers that the debate of recreational marijuana is a different issue, up to Puerto Rico to solve. However, he believes that both the economy and society would benefit from the advances with a “health-based approach” that can come from the UPR.


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