- Cannabis Law
- by Marni Meistrell
The following is a guide to understanding the laws and procedures for medical marijuana in Puerto Rico, so you may obtain your card and keep it.
The 2015 announcement by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla that medical marijuana would soon be legal on the island of Puerto Rico brought great joy to medical patients. But it took nearly two years of organizing and legislating before cannabis-based medicines were finally made available for sale, which happened on January 1st, 2017.
Despite the availability of medical marijuana on that date, the Puerto Rican legislature still had some work to do. At that time, it had not yet passed a law to govern all phases of the cannabis industry.
The delay was probably inevitable, since legislators had a lot of factors to consider. But on June 25th the Puerto Rican House and Senate both passed Law 340, which is the government’s definitive statute dealing with every aspect of the medical marijuana trade, from growth through manufacture through sale.
Getting Medical Marijuana in Puerto Rico Isn’t Easy—and it Shouldn’t Be
Medical marijuana is widely available for patients in Puerto Rico interested in using it, and for doctors interested in offering it as a solution to pain and suffering. Dispensaries (like those operated by Encanna) are now open, and early business has been brisk.
But you can’t just walk into a dispensary off the street and buy medical marijuana anytime you’d like, or for any type of illness or condition. There are procedures that must be followed and regulations you must be aware of, and Law 340 helps clarify those requirements.
Law 340 has reaffirmed the need for patients interested in medical marijuana to obtain authorization from a physician before buying legal cannabis products. As the law makes clear, any physician willing to authorize the use of medical marijuana is free to sign up as a contributor, provided they follow the correct procedures to gain certification by the government (the list of Puerto Rican doctors currently eligible to recommend medical marijuana is available here).
Once you find a doctor licensed to give you medical marijuana in Puerto Rico, you’ll need to be officially diagnosed with an eligible condition as defined by Puerto Rican law. As of now, the health conditions that can be treated with cannabis products include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Hepatitis C
- Crohn’s disease
- Anxiety disorders
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Spinal cord injuries
- Degenerative disorders that cause at least one of these symptoms: severe nausea, chronic pain, muscle spasms or cachexia (wasting condition)
According to the new law, doctors who recommend medical-grade cannabis for any disorders not on this list will be charged with a misdemeanor and could face penalties of up to $100,000.
Another thing to consider is that the new law outlaws marijuana smoking, meaning that if you want to purchase medical marijuana products they will have to be in another form, possibly as edibles, tinctures (liquid potions) and topical creams. Special permission may be granted by a doctor for terminal patients to vaporize. Please speak with your doctor for details. This is the only way dispensaries like ours can sell you medical marijuana products, and any dispensaries that violate these rules by selling cannabis for smoking could face fines and loss of their license.
We can sell you up to a one-month supply at a time, and you won’t be able to get more at another dispensary since the new law creates a centralized database that will track medical marijuana buyers and their history of purchases.
If You Want Medical Marijuana in Puerto Rico, Don’t Forget Your ID!
Just having a doctor’s permission won’t be enough to get medical marijuana in Puerto Rico.
If your doctor does diagnose you with an eligible condition, he or she will give you a letter of authorization that you can use to get a medical marijuana ID, which you will need before you can legally enter a dispensary.
The cost of an ID is $25, and you can get it from the Office of Controlled Substances and Medicinal Cannabis in the Santurce district of San Juan. Your physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana must be included in your application package, along with an affidavit signed and notarized by an attorney, but once you have that ID you’ll be good to go.
The same rules apply to those who will represent minor (under 21) patients and those who are disabled and rely on a companion. The person buying the medical marijuana from the dispensary (parent or companion) must obtain their own medical marijuana ID and bring it with them when they come to make a purchase.
Visitors from the U.S. with a medical marijuana ID card from their state can use that to buy cannabis products from Puerto Rican dispensaries. However, they must also get authorization from a doctor in Puerto Rico before a dispensary can sell them anything. Meanwhile, visitors from non-medical-marijuana states, or from other countries, must apply for an ID through the Office of Controlled Substances and Medicinal Cannabis just like island residents.
Now that a comprehensive law has been passed regulating the growth, sale and use of medical marijuana in Puerto Rico, there are a few other things you should know before you begin taking medicinal-grade cannabis:
- You must have your medical marijuana ID with you whenever you have cannabis in your possession. If you get caught without it you could be charged with carrying illegal drugs.
- When you do use cannabis products for medical purposes you must do so at home or in another private place, even if no one could possibly tell what you’re taking.
- If you drive a motor vehicle under the influence of medical marijuana, your health problems will not save you from getting a DUI. The new law was specifically amended from an earlier draft to make it clear that driving under the influence of cannabis will not be permitted under any circumstances.
- Self-medicating with marijuana you purchase from illegal sources, or with medical marijuana you get from someone who has permission to use it while you don’t, is strictly forbidden. Recreational cannabis is illegal in Puerto Rico, and the new law goes to great lengths to reaffirm that status.
For Medical Patients in Puerto Rico, Help is On the Way
You can only use cannabis medications with an approved medical condition, but the list of approved conditions is expected to expand dramatically over the coming years (or possibly even months) as scientific study into the effects of cannabis continues. In fact, Law 340 offers extensive legal support for medical research into the health effects of medical marijuana.
Puerto Rico lawmakers seem anxious to see the use of medical-grade cannabis increase, so if you have a health problem not presently approved for medical marijuana, don’t despair. Help may be available sooner than you think. Encanna will continually update the list as it expands and keep you apprised of any changes to Law 340.