The Medical Cannabis Industry Is Booming In Puerto Rico
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Puerto Rico legalized medical cannabis in the summer of 2017. Two months later Hurricane María tore through the island, leaving it in chaos and without electricity for months on end. Political turmoil and earthquakes followed. And this year, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the population.
However, through it all, the medical cannabis industry has managed to thrive, selling an average of $10 million a month in 2020. To date, sales have reached $51.4 million. Last year, sales reached $128.5 million and produced $14 million in taxes.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” says Raúl Rodríguez, who owns two cannabis stores on the island. “But we can’t complain because we’ve had sustained growth.”
Rodriguez believes the market still has space to grow, particularly in the center of the island, where there are not as many dispensaries as near the capital, San Juan.
“(Metro) areas are saturated and you can find sometimes three stores in five blocks and that is ridiculous for the industry we have here. The center of the island has more space for a new market,” he says.
The restrictions on medical cannabis in Puerto Rico are significant. It can be used in Puerto Rico legally for a specific list of 25 specific health conditions, and it has to be authorized by a certified doctor. There are 394 doctors licensed to prescribe cannabis and 92,500 licensed patients. There are more than 200 cannabis businesses here, but only one credit union offers limited banking services to the entire industry.
Shadiff Repullo, a lawyer and cannabis activist based in Puerto Rico, believes the industry would be bigger if the government would eradicate criminalization. She points out that a person with one ounce of cannabis can still be arrested.
But despite these obstacles, Repullo is optimistic about the industry’s growth. “We have a very old population, more so than any state, because younger people have moved,” she says. “Because of everything that has happened—[Hurricane] María, the governor resigning, the earthquakes—I think there is a lot of anxiety. Since [cannabis] can be used as a prescription for anxiety and pain, there is a big market here.”
Recreational use a distant dream
The possibility of legalization for recreational is not in the cards, as none of Puerto Rico’s political candidates openly endorse it. “Most of the candidates have talked about it, but none of them have talked about recreational use,” Repullo says.
But she hopes that the government will eliminate criminal charges for possession and make it easier for business owners to open dispensaries.
According to Denise Maldonado, who oversees the cannabis office under the Department of Health, it can take from six months to a year to open a store.
“We see that most dispensaries are in the metro area, but this is where we have the majority of the patients,” she says. “I see now that, since we are getting more patients from the center of the island, we are seeing more licenses for stores in these rural areas. As it is right now, the patients have to travel to the metro area.”
Despite hurricanes, the pandemic, and economic woes (and maybe because of there things), Puerto Ricans want their weed.
LEARN | LAWS & REGULATIONS
Is weed legal in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico has legalized medical cannabis use, but adult (recreational) use remains illegal.
In 2015, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed Executive Order OE-2015-010 , ordering the Secretary of Health to authorize some or all components of the marijuana plant for medicinal use for patients residing in Puerto Rico.
Department of Health Administrative Order No. 352 set up initial directives for the possession, cultivation, manufacturing, production, fabrication, dispensing, distributing, and research of medical cannabis.
In July 2017, Padilla signed Act 42-2017 , The Medicinal Act, which replaced the original executive order and set up a legal framework for medical marijuana in Puerto Rico.
Regulation 9038 , enacted in July 2018, further specified the requirements for authorized physicians and allowed for Puerto Rican dispensaries to serve registered patients from US states or other countries where medical marijuana is legal.
The Department of Health (Departamento de Salud) is responsible for regulating Puerto Rico’s medical marijuana program .
Puerto Ricans looking to access medical marijuana must go through an application process and pay a $25 fee. The steps are:
- Obtain a medical recommendation from an authorized doctor, which will be sent through the registration platform
- Open an account
- Create a request and locate the doctor’s medical recommendation
- Submit a passport-size photo
- Attach the remaining documents
Registered patients with a valid medical marijuana program card can purchase cannabis at a state-approved dispensary .
Consumption is limited to private homes or private places where owners authorize the consumption of medical cannabis. According to marijuana laws in Puerto Rico, smoking weed is illegal, but the following forms of consumption are allowed:
- Capsules or tablets
- Oral drops
- Oral inhalers
- Topical ointments and creams
- Transdermal patches
- Vaporization of cannabis flower or concentrate
- Any other means that the Department of Health authorizes
Registered patients in Puerto Rico are allowed a daily amount of 1 ounce (28 grams) of flower or 8 grams of THC in concentrate or edible form. They can possess up to 30 days’ worth at a time.
Home cultivation is not permitted.
A full list of qualifying conditions to legally purchase cannabis in Puerto Rico is maintained by the Department of Health’s medical cannabis program .
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Cancer and chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- Chronic pain
- Degenerative diseases including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Hepatitis C
- Incurable and advanced diseases requiring palliative care
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Persistent muscle spasms
- Peripheral neuropathies
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Severe nausea
- Spinal cord injury
- Any condition that causes cachexia, or wasting disease
Puerto Rico does allow dispensaries to serve patients with medical cards from their home state or other countries.
This page was last updated September 29, 2020.
View the marijuana laws & regulations for Puerto Rico.