House and Senate to evaluate medical cannabis bill in joint hearings
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico House and Senate Legal Affairs and Health committees will hold joint public hearings to evaluate Senate Bill 340, which would establish the legal framework under which the medical cannabis industry will operate on the island. Current regulations adhere to an executive order and a Health Department ruling.
The Legislature approved a petition from Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz to evaluate the bill jointly, with hearings starting at the end of the week or the beginning of the next.
As explained to Caribbean Business by House Legal Affairs Committee Chairwoman María Milagros Charbonier, what they are aiming for is to evaluate the medical cannabis bill presented by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló while investigating -via House Resolution 65- the legality of the Health Department’s processes in establishing and effecting the ruling for the plant’s medicinal use.
“We will do both things [the public hearings and the investigation]. There was already a public hearing for the resolution and it was rather revealing. We have been correcting the deficiencies in the process carried out last year [to establish the ruling of medical cannabis] in the presented legislation,” the New Progressive Party (NPP) representative said.
Charbonier advanced that the investigation’s results could be referred to the Justice Department if an irregularity or illegality is found in the process.
“We can’t leave any loose ends. I wouldn’t like to have a legislation that we would have to amend in two months. We want it to be adequate and avoid facing setbacks or problems in its enactment, and above all, to protect the patient, which is a priority… We have to be very careful, we have to go very calmly,” she added regarding the evaluation of the bill.
The representative explained that current regulations are a “legal swamp” that even infringes pre-existing legislation. For example, she said the ruling establishes penalty fees upward of $100,000 to owners of medical cannabis dispensaries that don’t comply with the law, but the Uniform Procedure Act demands that fees from rulings cannot surpass $10,000. This means that, in practice, fines of more than $10,000 cannot be issued.
Another issue Charbonier wants to clarify is avoiding a clash with federal law, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the highest rank in the Controlled Substance Act.
In addition to establishing the bases for use, possession, cultivation, harvest, manufacture, dispensing, distribution and research of medical marijuana, S.B. 40 establishes a Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board, made up of the Agriculture, Economic Development and Treasury secretaries as well a governor appointee.
In the legislative process, Charbonier will seek for that board to also respond to the Legislature, because “the legislator is not willing to surrender his prerogatives to legislate and oversee.” She also wants the medical cannabis parameters to be “clear and specific.”
This board would establish the medical conditions for which the use of cannabis may be recommended and would go over medical professionals in this regard—even though only one of the five members of the body, the Health secretary—is qualified to make such determinations.