The medical cannabis industry in Puerto Rico has to operate through a regulation that ensures adequate services to patients with legitimate authorization to benefit from this palliative medicine.
It is crucial to have accurate and systematic controls over those laboratories producing doses for local sale, as well as oversight on the entire structure, created by law in 2017, that allows the operation of 103 licensed dispensaries, mainly located in the metropolitan area.
Deficiencies recently reported in patients records, among other sale and oversight controls, must be swiftly resolved.
Thus, plans to review regulations and statutes governing this industry’s operations seem wise. The goal is to ensure the well-being of patients, as well as to study the economic impact of the operation of these businesses, including revenues to the Treasury that come from the development of this sector.
According to the government, Sales and Use Tax (SUT) revenues from the medical cannabis industry total $ 7.1 million so far this year and that the cumulative figure since 2017 totals $ 13.9 million. Based on these numbers, the projection for the industry’s annual sales could reach about $ 90 million. There are 113,711 certified patients and 394 doctors authorized to prescribe this palliative treatment in Puerto Rico. According to the Department of Health, there are 22 manufacturing companies, 24 to grow crops, three laboratories and 11 companies licensed to transport the product.
Vacancies in the Medical Cannabis Regulatory Board and an insufficient number of inspectors, resources to review inventories regularly and other operational aspects of the industry are among the deficiencies causing concerns.
This structure, created by law, needs to be fully completed to ensure that those involved in the manufacturing, transport or distribution of medical cannabis would always be updated with the relevant licenses and for their performance to be regulated by the clear defined controls.
Regulation is essential to ensure that services reach those patients certified under any of the twenty conditions defined by the Health Department. These include fibromyalgia, Parkinson's, epilepsy, cancer and Alzheimer's, to improve the quality of life of those who suffer from them.
State controls will also be crucial to discouraging any attempt to illegally sell cannabis which undermines its medical mission. Puerto Rico already suffers the appalling consequences of addiction and illegal access to other pain relievers without encouraging substance abuse.
Complaints must be addressed to enforce a uniform record of certified patients. A file with an interconnected database will help to regulate and facilitate services. It can also help to update the inventory and its periodic inspection, as recommended by the Legislature. The number of inspectors to control clinics or other facilities should also be examined, as well as the location per square mile of the centers certified.
Since this is a new line in the alternatives that would provide treatment to certain patients, it would be wise that the Health Department works on educational initiatives on the grounds and scope of medical cannabis. It is important to avoid misinformation.
Inaction that for months prevented collections from reaching the Treasury, for not charging fines for expired licenses, among other deficiencies, should not be repeated. The Board must apply immediate sanctions on non-compliance cases.
Appropriate regulation should provide stability to an industry with the potential to significantly contribute –under defined conditions- to the well-being of patients and to the island’s economy.