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Puerto Rico lawmakers still have reservations about medicinal cannabis

By on March 30, 2017

SAN JUAN – Although Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s Plan for Puerto Rico includes a law to regulate the medicinal cannabis industry, at least one New Progressive Party (NPP) senator has opposed the bill, and nine other majority legislators still haven’t assumed a stance.

Sen. Henry Neumann told Caribbean Business (CB) that his opposition is tied to his relation with sports because “I have seen marijuana destroy so many young athletes.” However, he said his position may change.

“I am educating myself on medicinal cannabis and its properties to alleviate people’s pain and that, for me, touches me dearly due to personal experiences. That is making me change my stance,” the senator said.

Meanwhile, Sens. Migdalia Padilla, Nayda Venegas, Ángel “Chayanne” Martínez, Nelson Cruz and Eric Correa, as well as Reps. Ángel Bulerín, Néstor Alonso, Jacqueline Rodríguez and José Luis Rivera Guerra told CB they don’t have a position on the matter, which is why they will evaluate Senate Bill 340 after the joint public hearings.

The governor presented this bill to regulate medicinal cannabis on the island, but it is expected to be heavily amended throughout the legislative process.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 07: A cannabis plant grows in the Amsterdam Cannabis College, a non profit charitable organisation that gives information on cannabis and hemp use on February 7, 2007 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The city council in Amsterdam has recently voted in favour of introducing a citywide ban on smoking marijuana in public areas. A successful trial ban in the De Baarsjes district of Amsterdam has been declared a success after a reduction in anti social behaviour. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A cannabis plant (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In the meantime, legislators Margarita Nolasco, Evelyn Vázquez, Michael Abid Quiñones, Guillermo Miranda, Samuel Pagán, and House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez said they favored medicinal cannabis, but still had to examine the bill to decide whether to vote in favor or against it.

“During the past administration, we developed the bill so a study [on medicinal cannabis] be conducted at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and, at the same time, it could be used by people with chronic pain. That is how I would be in favor… I want to see the final billt,” Méndez said.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz shares a similar position. He said his voting in favor of the bill will depend on which regulations would established, compliance with state and federal laws, preventing “excessive profit-making” in some sectors, and prioritizing research.

For his part, Sen. Abel Nazario told CB he wants to ensure the bill will prevent those convicted for drug offenses from having access to businesses involving medicinal cannabis; that “50% of all revenue” be allocated to the UPR to boost research; and to increase penalties for criminal activity within this process.

Among legislative minorities, only Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Luis Raúl Torres said he is against medicinal cannabis, until a referendum is held for the people to decide whether to legalize the plant and for what uses.

Meanwhile, PDP Senate Minority Whip Eduardo Bhatia told CB he is in favor of medicinal cannabis, but if the bill voted on “is more limiting than the executive order [OE-2015-35] issued under the last administration, I will object.”

Independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot echoed Bhatia, saying, “I would oppose anything that is restrictive.”

“I would oppose anything that doesn’t entail scientific monitoring on the product being sold. I would oppose the bill to be framed within an affluent elite, and if the bill doesn’t contemplate a community doorway for people with low incomes to obtain their product,” added Vargas Vidot, founder of the Community Initiative, a nonprofit that addresses addiction and rehabilitation in disadvantaged communities.

The legislator survey was made between February and March. However, several officials weren’t available: Sens. Luis Daniel Muñiz, Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, Miguel Laureano Correa, Itzamar Peña and José Luis Dalmau; nor Reps. Antonio “Tony” Soto, Ángel Peña and Brenda López de Arrarás.

The rest of the legislators who did participate said they were in favor of medicinal cannabis, as well as the bill presented by the governor.

Despite the objections, the bill would have the required number of votes to be approved if put to a vote today because the Senate requires a minimum 14 votes to pass (out of 30 senators), while the House requires 26 (out of 51 representatives).

*Limarys Suárez contributed to this report.

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