New gov’t conditions send ripples through P.R.’s medicinal cannabis sector
In recent weeks, two Puerto Rico government entities have sent out letters to medicinal cannabis clinics, as well as physicians, imposing conditions that could negatively affect the growing sector, this media outlet confirmed.
Earlier this month, the Puerto Rico Health Department’s Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board issued a letter in which it looked to “clear up” several issues, including medical referrals for patients needing the cannabis flower for treatment.
The letter basically states that the use of the vaporized bud may only be prescribed to terminally-ill patients, or when the physician determines there are no other ideal or adequate treatment options. Up until then, patients were certified as eligible to use medicinal cannabis to address a variety of conditions, from diabetes to anxiety.
“For a patient to be able to buy the cannabis flower at a clinic, the medical recommendation must specify and support that vaporization of the flower is the ideal treatment, or due to a terminal condition,” the letter stated.
If the physician does not provide the referral, the patient — which until now has been able to buy the products upon being certified as a medicinal cannabis patient — will not be dispatched the flower. The Board then issued a second letter, giving patients a 90-day window to get the proper referrals.
“The letter the Regulatory Board wrote is illegal, because it made the instructions retroactive,” said Goodwin Aldarondo, president of Puerto Rico Legal Marijuana, a nonprofit dedicated to educating about the industry, based on current laws.
“The Board is interpreting Law 42-2017, and it’s the court that interprets the law. The Board is interpreting that the sale of the cannabis flower should be restricted, and that’s a mistake. We need regulations. The law states that combustion isn’t allowed — it does not restrict the sale of the flower,” said Aldarondo, an attorney licensed on medicinal cannabis matters.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Treasury Department also recently re-circulated a letter to clinics noting amendments to the Commonwealth’s Internal Revenue Code, specifically related to tobacco regulations. In the Administrative Determination approved last year, the agency noted a new section imposing taxes on electronic cigarettes, nicotine cartridges and vaporizers, which are used in the cannabis industry.
“That tax is also illegal. There’s no way that’s applicable to cannabis if it’s medicinal, and furthermore, that’s included in the tobacco law,” he said.
The problem with the directives is that they affect the sale of the cannabis flower, which makes up between 60 percent and 70 percent of a clinic’s bottom line, he added.
“If they restrict the sale of the flower, then this is a problem,” Aldarondo said. “But to address this, we’ll have to wait until the first clinic selling cannabis flowers is fined, or that the first patient is denied their treatment, to fight it.”