Although it has been a U.S. territory since we swiped it from the Spaniards in 1898, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is rarely taken into consideration when discussing American politics.
But with the issue of various levels of cannabis reform quickly becoming a dominant topic of debate here on the mainland, there is a rising wave of support for a 3-way blast of more progressive pot legislation for Puerto Ricans.
Rather than taking the slow road to reform that too many states seem to be content with, Adrian Brito at the Huffington Post is reporting that pro-pot Puerto Ricans are aiming to pass legislation to decriminalize marijuana on a recreational level, to legalize it on a medical level, and to allow the island territory to grow and export hemp.
If they can pull it off, Puerto Rico will be the first U.S. territory to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize pot possession. Suck it, Guam!
First, if passed, House Bill 1362 will legalize medical marijuana, and allow for officials to regulate its sale, production, possession, and consumption. HB1362 enjoys a wide margin of support, as folks from all points on the political spectrum in Puerto Rico recognize that cannabis reform is much needed, and that the plant does serve a legitimate purpose, medicinally.
Even the normally anti-ganja governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, recently took to the airwaves on a popular local radio show and conceded that Washington, Colorado, and even Uruguay may have discovered a dank path to fiscal solvency. He also acknowledged the undeniable fact that cannabis has a very real medicinal value, stating, "There seems to be a consensus around the notion that marijuana can be used to successfully treat many illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and cancer."
Without skipping a toke, a simultaneous debate will be taking place in the House over Senate Bill 517, also expected to pass as easily as it did in the Senate back in December of 2013. When it does become the law of the land, Puerto Ricans will be able to carry up to 14 grams of ganja without fear of arrest or criminal charges.
Finally, on Monday of this week, Representative Carlos Vargas Ferrer of the Popular Democratic Party introduced two new resolutions to determine how economically feasible it would be to grow and export non-psychoactive hemp from the island.
One resolution is aimed at the dollars and cents/sense, while the other proposes the idea that perhaps the College of Agricultural Sciences at the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico could pilot the hemp growing project, overseen by the Department of Agriculture.
From the governor, to the Speaker of the House, to the average Jose on the streets of Puerto Rico, opinions on cannabis have shifted hard of late in favor of the plant.
Advocates credit updated and more relevant drug education, and shifting politics on the mainland, as the major driving factors for the rapid swing on the issue locally.
A large stimulus for Puerto Rico's previously uninformed politicians was a recent visit from the Drug Policy Alliance, and their influential Executive Director, Dr. Ethan Nadelmann.
It was just over a month ago, in February, that he issued a challenge to the local lawmakers "Puerto Rico's drug related crime statistics are staggering. If we want to change that, we need to create a movement for marijuana reform, and I hope to see a movement here when I come back."
Holy smokes, Doc, nice pep talk.
HB1362 and SB517 are expected to hit the governor's desk later this year, when with a stroke of his pen, Puerto Rico will make history in showing its solidarity with the U.S.