Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 2nd 2017 Contents A22 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Puerto Rico betting on medical marijuana to help ease crisis
Jesus Aponte pushes a door
open to reveal hundreds of aro-
matic, spiky green plants, a crop
that Puerto Rico hopes will help it
ease a grinding economic crisis by
generating millions in revenue and
tens of thousands of jobs.
Aponte, a 29-year-old biologist and
chemical engineer, had been thinking
of joining the wave of young Puerto Ri-
can professionals heading to the US to
seek work --- an exodus that has aggra-
vated the US territory's woes. But then
he saw the island's medical marijuana
industry start to expand, and found
one of the rare new jobs opening up
on the island, overseeing some 2,000
plants at the Natural Ventures facility.
"This is an economic niche that
we can grab on to," he said, though
he added, "A lot of people told me,
'What are you doing with your life?
You're throwing away your future.'"
But like more than two dozen US
states, Puerto Rico is pinning a little of
its future on the recently illegal drug.
The territory legalised medical mar-
ijuana by decree nearly two years ago
and new Gov Ricardo Rossello last
month signed a measure that set out
a legal framework for the industry.
Backers say that will spark an expan-
sion of the pot fields, manufacturing
centers and dispensaries that have
been popping up across the island.
"A lot of people were waiting for this
law," said attorney Goodwin Aldaron-
do, president of Puerto Rico Legal
Marijuana, a consulting company. "It's
the only viable alternative we have to
solve the economic situation. It's been
many, many years since Puerto Rico
has had a new industry."
For Narelis Cortes, the issue isn't so
much work as conquering pain.
She's one of nearly 9,000 Puerto
Ricans who have paid US$25 a year
for a permit to use medical marijua-
na to treat at least 14 pre-approved
conditions including HIV, cancer,
multiple sclerosis, migraines, anxi-
ety and epilepsy.
The 32-year-old mother and Air
Force veteran said rheumatoid ar-
thritis, fibromyalgia and the initial
stages of Parkinson's disease had kept
her in bed for hours a day. She said
she spends about US$350 a month on
medical marijuana. She vapes every
four to six hours and has eliminated
the need for 20 medications.
"I'm functional now," she said.
The island's treasury secretary says
the medical marijuana industry could
generate up to US$100 million a year,
in part through a sales and use tax,
and help ease an unemployment rate
that has hovered around 12 per cent.
That would be a rare glimmer of
good news for an island facing billions
of dollars in budget cuts, a public debt
load of more than US$70 billion and a
population that is declining as peo-
ple flee to the mainland seeking better
"Name one new industry in Puer-
to Rico capable of generating millions
and billions in capital and improving
an economy in a mega-crisis. There
is none," said David Quinones, oper-
ations director of Natural Ventures,
the island's largest medical marijuana
However, Puerto Rico economist
Indira Luciano said the state's rev-
enue projections are too high, espe-
cially because officials didn't take into
account variables such as the prices
of products, the availability of other
treatments, and wages on an island
with a 45 per cent poverty rate.
She said the economy would receive
a bigger boost if Puerto Rico went fur-
ther and legalized recreational mar-
ijuana: "The stricter the law, the less
economic impact it will have."
In more populous Colorado, with a
much broader recreational marijua-
na market, the state earned US$200
million in state tax revenues last year,
according to Clinton Saloga, a research
associate with the Colorado-based
Marijuana Policy Group. He said he
doesn't expect medical marijuana to
be a huge economic boon for Puerto
"In terms of being a savior ... I
don't think it would single handed-
ly accomplish that, but it would be a
new, untapped source of employment,
economic activity and tax revenues
that could provide significant relief,"
Medical marijuana is legal in 29
US states, but Puerto Rico has some
advantages: Tax rates on the industry
are lower and it's not subject to a fed-
eral law that prohibits investors from
deducting cannabis-related operating
expenses for tax purposes.
One gram costs roughly US$20,
although some dispensaries have
specials for US$10 a gram, which is
roughly the average price in US states
where medical marijuana is legal.
Investors in Puerto Rico have spent
more than US$3 million to obtain
health department licenses to cul-
tivate, manufacture and sell medical
marijuana. So far, the island has 27
dispensaries, 11 grow facilities, five
manufacturing centres and two lab-
oratories responsible for analyzing
all medical marijuana before it's sold.
The health department also has cer-
tified nearly 300 doctors who can pre-
scribe marijuana. They pay US$1,500
every three years for a permit after
taking required courses. (AP)
Juan Manuel Rodriguez, an investor at Natural Ventures inspects marijuana plants in a bloom room in Caguas,
Puerto Rico. PHOTO: AP
Medical marijuana is legal
in 29 US states, but Puerto
Rico has some advantages:
Tax rates on the industry
are lower and it's not
subject to a federal law
that prohibits investors
from deducting cannabis-
related operating expenses
for tax purposes. One
gram costs roughly US$20,
although some dispensaries
have specials for US$10 a
gram, which is roughly the
average price in US states
where medical marijuana
is legal. Investors in Puerto
Rico have spent more than
US$3 million to obtain
health department licenses
to cultivate, manufacture
and sell medical marijuana.
Links Archive August 1st 2017 August 3rd 2017 Navigation Previous Page Next Page