It's time to gab your piña colata and sun hat because we're going to Puerto Rico! Well, at least I am.
Puerto Rico is one of the few places left to still have that old US imperialistic charm. The small island territory has always been a hot button issue for many American policy makers. Is it a state? Is it a colony? Is it something in between? While the country has been trying to figure it out, Puerto Rico seems willing and able to make decisions for itself, even if the States don't know what to do with it.
Medical Marijuana in Puerto Rico
One of Puerto Rico's latest displays of autonomy happened just a few years ago in May of 2015 when the territory legalized medical marijuana. Up until this point, the substance had been strictly illegal. Thanks to former Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, that is no longer the case.
Governor Garcia has played a crucial role in destroying the stigma surrounding marijuana in Puerto Rico. In what seemed like a surprise executive order, the governor passed legislation finally allowing the treatment of 14 qualifying ailments with marijuana, including HIV/AIDS, migraines, PTSD, and others. Garcia's executive order follows the example of Jamaica and the 23 states that already allow medical marijuana. In his statement to the press, Garcia said, "“We’re taking a significant step in the area of health that is crucial to our development and high expectations for their quality of life. I am sure that many patients will receive appropriate treatment that will offer them new hope."
Pretty great, right? Garcia even went a step further later in March of 2016 during his final address to the nation when he said that Puerto Rico should go all the way to completely legalize the substance for good. Legalizing marijuana would "lower crime and target hypocrisy" according to the Governor, and I have to say, I think he's right.
Puerto Rico's Economic Crisis
All of this has been happening during Puerto Rico's recent economic crisis. In case you haven't heard, the country is currently spiraling in a $70 billion hole to American investors. Puerto Rico is struggling keeping it's hospital and school lights on but American investors are tying to keep Puerto Rico to the payment promises the territory simply cannot keep.
As seen in the video below, John Oliver does a great job at explaining the messy situation and what role the US has played in all of it.
The hope that former Governor Garcia and so many others in Puerto Rico have is that medical marijuana, and hopefully full on legalization, will bring in much needed revenue for the territory to help pay off its debt. Once regulated and taxed, marijuana could be the island's saving grace from full on economic collapse.
Even the public has jumped on the legalization train, too. On April 20th, 2015, thousands of Puerto Ricans held a demonstration in San Juan to fight for marijuana decriminalization. What a way to celebrate 4/20, right?
Recreational Marijuana in Puerto Rico
Don't be fooled though: recreational marijuana is still VERY much illegal in Puerto Rico. If you're not a medical card holder and you're found with any amount of marijuana in Puerto Rico, you're automatically a felon with a $5,000 fine that'll face 2-5 years in jail. Make it a second offense and you're likely to face between 4 and 10 years. Puerto Rico's strict smoking regulations, too, make it illegal to smoke anything, including tobacco, in public spaces, restaurants, and even in cars with children under the age of 13.
Given the current economic state of the country and the recent developments in medical marijuana, it seems like only a matter of time before marijuana is completely legalized on the island. Instead of uselessly jailing people for the petty crime and wasting millions on law enforcement, the country should take the common sense route and just get it over with. When that day comes, you'll find me on the beaches of Flamenco with a joint and my piña colata.
For more Puerto Rico marijuana news, click here.