After the recent announcement by the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board on implementation of restrictions on the sale of the cannabis flower at dispensaries in Puerto Rico, there seems to be no respite from the controversy that has ensued over the use of the flower, given the vast polarization of opinions from both the governor’s office/ La Fortaleza and the Legislative Assembly.
According to a missive issued by the regulator, Act 42 “prohibits, as a method of administration, the ignition or combustion of medical cannabis,” and adds that the “vaporization of the cannabis flower to a patient diagnosed with a terminal illness or in cases where there is no other suitable or adequate alternative…” will be the means to administer medical cannabis.
However, experts say the flower is crucial for treatment, particularly in the case of people with low income, who cannot afford medical cannabis treatment by other means.
“I can tell you, based on my own experience, because coming from the perspective of patients, since I have a niece who was treated with medicinal cannabis, the importance of the flower for patients is essential because it is an economic alternative that she has to be able to make her own tea or be able to create her own cannabis butter to be able to prepare products,” explained José Giovanni Ojeda, vice president of Cruz Verde Inc. He is also a course instructor for CannaWorks Institute, which held the third edition of Puerto Rico MedCann.Biz, an event that brings together the medical cannabis industry, provides educational lectures and certifies patients for medical cannabis.
“The position of the Legislature is embodied in Act 42 of 2017, which clearly includes the flower. To change that public policy, established by the Legislature and endorsed by the executive [branch], there would have to be an amendment to the bill, and our information is that right now there’s no [political] atmosphere or sufficient votes to produce these amendments,” Ojeda added.
Statistics on Puerto Rico’s medical cannabis industry reflect significant growth and potential for the island’s long-awaited economic development. As expressed during the MedCann.Biz event, the industry continues to provide indications about medical cannabis’ potential, since it has registered some 25,000 patients as of April, compared with only 6,900 in April of last year.
There were nine cultivation licenses last year. That number has now risen to 15. In 2017, there were four manufacturers, while now there are 11. By the beginning of last year, there were only seven dispensaries. Today, Puerto Rico has 45, along with 322 registered doctors and two laboratories.
According to information provided, 54 percent of patients are age 52 or older and women over 52 comprise 48 percent of the female patients.
“The most striking thing about the numbers to me is that more than half of these patients surpass 55 years of age, and that’s a figure that breaks with the stigma that this is for young people. The baby boomers are signing up and that is a reality. Here in Puerto Rico, the commotion and curiosity that this issue has generated, especially in the medical class, has no comparison, even with the state of Colorado. When we look at that state and see the number of doctors involved there versus the number of physicians…involved here, the future is promising for us,” the expert told Caribbean Business.
“If you ask me, it seems…the flower will always prevail because, really, when you sit and listen to the testimonies of the patients, as countless legislators have done, and we are talking about the most conservative legislators to the most liberal, you totally change your mind,” he added.
The outlook for detractors of the flower for medical treatment could become even more complicated at a time when stateside surveys indicate voters, both Democrats and Republicans, support medical cannabis. According to a 2017 Yahoo/ Marist survey, 83 percent said doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana to patients.