Sunday, January 20, 2019

Is 2019 the Year of Cannabis?

By on January 11, 2019

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Jan. 10-16, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

The medical cannabis industry in Puerto Rico continues its exponential growth on the island, attracting more and more patients interested in experiencing the healing benefits of the millennial plant.

In May 2015, former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla authorized, via executive order, the use of medical cannabis on the island, and with the subsequent enactment of the law by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares at the beginning of 2017, the law that regulates its use in Puerto Rico continues to drive the expansion of this budding industry.

Experts say 2019 could be the year of cannabis and its different uses, not only in Puerto Rico and the United States, but also worldwide. Evidence of this claim continues to mount with numerous countries having begun to take the first steps to legalize the plant for its medicinal and recreational properties, as well as for its commercial applications as hemp.

Even this week, during a summit the governor called to discuss strategies to tackle crime directly related to drug trafficking, the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, recommended the complete decriminalization of the plant as “a first step in the right direction” to address crime.

“We have to take a look at the punitive aspect right now because 18 people have been murdered in [the first] eight days of the year,” the mayor said during a press conference that included other mayors, the governor, the director of the Public Safety Department and other officials.

For Goodwin Aldarondo, president & CEO of Puerto Rico Legal Marijuana, an organization that educates the public about the legal aspects of medical marijuana, this year will be definitive for cannabis on the island.

“This is going to be the year of medical cannabis because there already is a board, there is regulation, there is a law, there already are over 50,000 patients, there is a digital platform where patients can obtain their provisional card almost immediately; before they had to wait three months…,” said Aldarondo, who agreed with the San Juan mayor about the plant’s decriminalization to fight drug-trafficking.

“Another positive thing is the government launched an advertising campaign about the benefits of medical cannabis, so everything is already headed toward the industry’s growth and success,” said Aldarondo, who is also a lawyer, referring to industry efforts established to remove the stigma of the medicinal uses of the plant, which is one of the industry’s biggest challenges globally.

Carmen Serrano, general manager at Nextgen Pharma, a pharmaceutical company specializing in the development and manufacture of cannabis-based products, sees 2019 emerging as a great year for the medical industry on the island.

“From the point of view of our cultivation and manufacturing operations, 2019 is envisioned as a year of additional growth. With the entry of new patients into the program and the brand recognition our products have developed, we will continue to expand our production capacity. Regarding the operation of dispensaries under our sister company BWell Healing Center, we also anticipate a positive outlook,” the entrepreneur told Caribbean Business.

Among the company’s plans for this year, Serrano highlighted the opening of six new dispensaries, which would raise the number of BWell Healing Center locations across the island to 10.

Meanwhile, José Aleczer Rivera, president of the Members of the Medicinal Cannabis Industry (MICaM by its Spanish acronym), concurred with his colleagues in declaring 2019 as the year of medical cannabis globally.

“The indicators are growing clearer, not only at the government level in terms of opening new markets in the United States and Puerto Rico, but also at the level of large capital investment in medicinal cannabis. These are well-planned and thoughtful investments and all indicators point to 2019 being the year in which medical cannabis will prevail as one of the most important industries in Puerto Rico,” Rivera said.

MICaM’s president also applauded the proposal outlined by the mayor of San Juan to decriminalize cannabis.

“At the recreational level, I understand the indicators point to the regulation of recreational consumption in…many U.S. jurisdictions at the federal level, and I hope Puerto Rico is included among them, and that market should move toward that,” she added.

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