Refresh Checked Unchecked Menu Search Shopping bag Geolocation Person Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube Info Icon CBC Icon CBC Shape CBD Icon CBD Shape CBG Icon CBG Shape THC Icon THC Shape THCV Icon THCV Shape Loading…
Advertise on Leafly

Puerto Rico Betting on Medical Marijuana to Help Ease Crisis

August 1, 2017
Jesus Aponte, 29, a biologist and chemical engineer who now serves as director of cultivation at Natural Ventures, stands inside a cannabis bloom room in Caguas, Puerto Rico on July 24. Aponte considered leaving Puerto Rico to work in Alaska's petrochemical industry before he saw the island’s medical marijuana industry begin to expand. (Ricardo Arduengo/AP)
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Jesus Aponte pushes a door open to reveal hundreds of aromatic, 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.

“This is an economic niche that we can grab on to.”
Jesus Aponte, biologist

Aponte, a 29-year-old biologist and chemical engineer, had been thinking of joining the wave of young Puerto Rican professionals heading to the U.S. to seek work — an exodus that has aggravated the U.S. territory’s woes. But then he saw the 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 U.S. states, Puerto Rico is pinning a little of its future on the recently illegal drug.


Puerto Rico: Young Generation Creating an Island of Cannabis Opportunity

The territory legalized medical cannabis 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 expansion of the cannabis 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 Aldarondo, 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 $25 a year for a permit to use medical cannabis to treat at least 14 pre-approved conditions including HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, migraines, anxiety and epilepsy.


Here’s What the National Academy’s Medical Cannabis Report Actually Says

The 32-year-old mother and Air Force veteran said rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and the initial stages of Parkinson’s disease had kept her in bed for hours a day. She said she spends about $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 cannabis industry could generate up to $100 million a year, in part through a sales and use tax, and help ease an unemployment rate that has hovered around 12 percent.

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 $70 billion and a population that is declining as people flee to the mainland seeking better opportunities.

“Name one new industry in Puerto Rico capable of generating millions and billions in capital and improving an economy in a mega-crisis. There is none,” said David Quinones, operations director of Natural Ventures, the island’s largest medical marijuana producer.


Cannabis Is Producing Jobs, Revenue in States Where It’s Legal

However, Puerto Rico economist Indira Luciano said the state’s revenue projections are too high, especially 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 percent poverty rate.

She said the economy would receive a bigger boost if Puerto Rico went further and legalized recreational cannabis: “The stricter the law, the less economic impact it will have.”

In more populous Colorado, with a much broader recreational cannabis market, the state earned $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 Rico.


How Much Tax Revenue Do Legal Cannabis Sales Generate?

“In terms of being a savior … I don’t think it would single handedly accomplish that, but it would be a new, untapped source of employment, economic activity and tax revenues that could provide significant relief,” he said.

Medical cannabis is legal in 29 U.S. 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 $20, although some dispensaries have specials for $10 a gram, which is roughly the average price in U.S. states where medical marijuana is legal.


‘Cheap Pot!’: What’s the Deal with the $6 Gram?

Investors in Puerto Rico have spent more than $3 million to obtain health department licenses to cultivate, manufacture and sell medical cannabis. So far, the island has 27 dispensaries, 11 grow facilities, five manufacturing centers and two laboratories responsible for analyzing all medical marijuana before it’s sold.

The health department also has certified nearly 300 doctors who can prescribe cannabis. They pay $1,500 every three years for a permit after taking required courses.

The Associated Press's Bio Image

The Associated Press

The AP is one of the world's largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering.

View The Associated Press's articles