Now that medical marijuana is legal in Puerto Rico, don’t count on local farmers joining the green rush. At least not yet.
Instead, growing high-grade medical cannabis will initially be in hands of the government and “maybe in the future, we can enter the market,” the man in charge of the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau told News is my Business.
“Right now, there are no opportunities for farmers,” said Héctor Iván Cordero, who leads the group founded in 1924.
Puerto Rico reportedly has about 2,000 bona-fide farmers and some have expressed interest in cultivating medical marijuana.
But, according to Cordero, the government intends to be the sole grower for the time being. Cultivation, he said, is going to be a restricted activity.
“Until there is enough data, (the government) is not going to open it up. The project is going to be carried out by the Agriculture Department together with the University of Puerto Rico,” he said in a brief phone conversation.
Even if farmers could get involved, medical marijuana farming would pose big challenges. Cordero said this type of operation entails a hefty investment and high costs associated with strict compliance requirements, security and insurance. (Taxes are high as well, with producers required to shell out $5,000 each year to the local treasury.) As for financing, he said the banking sector has made it known that it has no intention of lending money for this activity.
The bank’s stance might possibly be tied to the fact that while 23 states, Washington, D.C., Guam and now Puerto Rico allow medical marijuana, it still remains an illegal activity in the eyes of the federal government. Still, federal authorities have said they have no plans of going after people working in this industry in those jurisdictions that have legalized the drug.
Officials at the UPR were not available for comment on the medical marijuana program. Agriculture Spokesperson Nancy Feliciano would not confirm Cordero’s statements but instead referred this media outlet to the Health Department’s legal office. Attorney Mayra Maldonado Colón, who directs that office, did not respond to a request for information.
A marijuana analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures recently told a stateside newspaper that it usually takes an average of nine to 18 months before medical marijuana is available to patients following legislative approval.
In the case of Puerto Rico, legalization came by way of an executive order the governor of Puerto Rico signed last April giving the go ahead for the use of medical marijuana for medical and research purposes. The UPR will carry out research.
Earlier this month, the Health Department, which is charged with overseeing the entire medical marijuana industry, released the regulations (Reglamento 155) that will control the use, cultivation, production, and distribution of medical cannabis and its derivatives.
Jumpstarting a green industry based on a controlled substance is proving a step-by-step process for the Health Department. Now that the regulations are out of the way, the agency is turning its attention to the doctors who will prescribe the drug. Puerto Rico reportedly has 250,000 patients who suffer from conditions that might benefit from the use of medical cannabis.
Maldonado, the Health Department’s legal counsel, said the agency is currently reviewing the training courses that doctors will be required to take before being allowed to prescribe medical marijuana. The courses will be offered by either the agency or a third party, four times a year during the first two years of the program and twice a year henceforward.
“These courses could be available by the end of the month,” she said recently in response to written questions.
Doctors also need to have state and federal licenses for prescribing controlled substances and pay a $1,500 tariff to the local treasury. Puerto Rico has 19,239 doctors licensed to prescribe controlled substances, according to Maldonado.
The maximum a doctor may prescribe is 2.5 ounces per month. As doctors register, their patients will also be able to register for the identification card they and a caretaker, if one is needed, will be required to have. Adult patients need one doctor to recommend the use of medical cannabis while underage patients need two recommendations.
As to when patients in Puerto Rico will be able to access medical marijuana, the government said recently that it could happen by the end of the year. According to the experts, growing weed can take from eight weeks to seven months. If the UPR starts planting soon, the first harvest could meet the government’s estimated timetable.
According to information gleaned from the mainland press, most of the states that have regulated medical marijuana favor growing the drug indoors for security reasons and to have better control over temperature levels.
Cultivation can be tricky. One story noted that marijuana is “a finicky plant” prone to mold and mildew, requires humidity levels under 50 percent, and temperatures between 76 and 80 degrees. It also needs certain levels of carbon dioxide, special nutrients and controlled pH levels.