Things That Matter

A Legal Marijuana Industry Might Be What Puerto Rico Needs To Recover Financially

Back in 2015, a year before leaving office, then-Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Padilla signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana. Two years later, Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed the legal framework to make Puerto Rico the only Caribbean island to legalize recreational marijuana. Now, there are around 72,000 patients that have signed up for the program run by the Department of Health. Despite many legal challenges, Puerto Rico is seeing a financial boom when it comes marijuana and the cultivation of the product.

So far, $11.5 million has been added to Puerto Rico’s economy due to recreational marijuana.

Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, is seeing some recovery from the legalization of pot. Puerto Rico is also under extreme pressure from its $72 billion in public debt that has caused myriad problems for island residents. However, it seems that recreational marijuana might be the ticket to Puerto Rico financial recovery.

According to NBC News, Puerto Rico has issued 77 dispensary licenses and 40 shops have opened on the island. The government projections also show that cannabis legalization could generate $100 million in new tax revenue by 2020 and create more than 20,000 jobs.

In order for Puerto Rico to reach those figures, it will depend on the number of new patients. With continued customers and a growing consumer base, the projected revenue numbers are a true possibility.

“It’s a new industry with a lot of exciting opportunities,” said Puerto Rico’s pot commissioner, Antonio Quilichini, executive director of the Puerto Rico Cannabis Program and Regulation Board, told NBC News. “We are seeing more and more patients register; we went from 20 patients a week to 1,500. Patients are excited and are welcoming alternative ways of healing.”

Despite growth, there are still challenges that come with dealing with the marijuana industry that includes financial institutions.

While there is a lot of money to be made through medical marijuana, the plant is still labeled as an illegal substance. That means many financial institutions aren’t lining up to offer services just yet.

Banking seems to be the biggest challenge in Puerto Rico. Tu Coop, the only local credit union providing services to the medical marijuana industry, had to cancel credit accounts earlier this year. Banco Cooperativo, a larger bank overseeing the credit union’s transactions, stopped accepting their checks.

International policies, like the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, hinder banking institutions from accepting money from a business selling marijuana. This is one obstacle that has slowed the growth of the marijuana industry in several countries, including Uruguay. The bank institute block can only change if marijuana is declassified as a narcotic drug on federal and international levels.

Despite the issue being solved after a judge ordered the larger bank to reinstate Tu Coop’s accounts, there are still many hurdles to overcomes. If a few financial institutions will work with the marijuana industry then a cash business will be the only alternative. This only serves to make it harder to track numbers and can be labor intensive.

This is why lawmakers in the House are expected to vote on the SAFE Banking Act, which would let legal cannabis businesses to use federal banking institutions. It would also help relieve the tensions between federal and local governments trying to oversee legal marijuana.

What’s the future for marijuana in Puerto Rico? The sky is the limit.

Despite various challenges in Puerto Rico, the growing marijuana industry is bringing optimism. With a growing number of patients, more growers and more regulations to help ease financial concerns, the possibilities are endless on the island.

While there might be certain stigmas that follow the industry and the plant itself, the move to make recreational marijuana legal has eased some of those misconceptions. Only time will tell where the industry goes and how much of a financial effect it will have on Puerto Rico.

READ: Federal Judge Rules That Trump Administration Cannot Send Asylum Seekers To Mexico

This Shipment Of Jalapeños Turned Out To Be One Of The Year’s Biggest Marijuana Busts

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This Shipment Of Jalapeños Turned Out To Be One Of The Year’s Biggest Marijuana Busts

@high_times_mag / Twitter

OK…so recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states (plus D.C.) and medical marijuana is legal in even more – 34 to be exact. But that doesn’t mean that cartels from south of the border aren’t continuing their trade here in the US since they often offer less expensive marijuana to customers across the US.

And as the Trump administration’s increased enforcement at the border continues, we are seeing more frequent drug busts like this one at ports of entry from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.

Nearly four tons of marijuana were packed alongside red hot jalapeños.

Border patrol officers at a port of entry in San Diego discovered nearly four tons of marijuana hidden beneath a shipment of jalapeños, officials said.

Officers assigned to the Otay Mesa cargo facility in California discovered the large amount of weed, worth about $2.3 million, wrapped in green packaging and stashed under a mountain of red jalapeño peppers, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

A CBP officer referred the truck to secondary check when a canine team alerted to them to the shipment of peppers. 

The officer then discovered and extracted 314 large wrapped packages of marijuana, weighing 7,560 pounds, within the shipment of jalapeño peppers.

But as more states legalize marijuana, we are seeing fewer and fewer drug busts like this one.

The decline in marijuana seizures at the US-Mexico border started in 2014, the year that Colorado and Washington became the first states in the US to legalize the sale of recreational weed to adults. Nine other states, including California, the country’s most populous and wealthiest state, as well as DC, have since legalized recreational use, further eating away at cartels’ market share.

CBP congratulated the officers on the bust.

“I am proud of the officers for seizing this significant marijuana load,” Otay Mesa Port Director, Rosa Hernandez, said in a statement.

“Not only did they prevent the drugs from reaching our community, they also prevented millions of dollars of potential profit from making it into the hands of a transnational criminal organization.”

Of course, upon news of the major pot bust, Twitter erupted with plenty of reactions.

Many were excited to for a possible new strain of spicy pot…or hot pot. Some were taking ideas from this seizure and hoping growers would take advantage and maybe soon offer up a jalapeño flavored marijuana strand at dispensaries in states with legal weed.

While others were just in awe of the amount of weed found.

I mean 4 tons of weed…that’s more than 125,000 ounces of bud. Do the math and figure out how many joints that is…it’s a lot that’s for sure.

While some speculated that maybe the smugglers were hoping to create an entirely new market.

I mean it would definitely be a new product on the market and one that could do really well, especially in Southern California – where weed and jalapeños are as American as baseball and apple pie.

A New Florida Law And Lack Of Testing Facilities In The State Means Miami-Dade County Won’t Be Prosecuting Misdemeanor Pot Cases

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A New Florida Law And Lack Of Testing Facilities In The State Means Miami-Dade County Won’t Be Prosecuting Misdemeanor Pot Cases

Marc Fuyà / Flickr

There is good news out there for marijuana users in Florida as prosecutors in Miami-Dade county announced they will no longer prosecute minor marijuana cases. The news comes as a result of new state law, the so-called “hemp bill,” which went into effect July 1, that has legalized hemp but has also caused much more costly problems. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office released a memo last week saying there is no police crime lab in South Florida that currently tests for a cannabis chemical that gets users high. This has now created a new challenge for law enforcement in trying to tell the difference between hemp and cannabis.

“Barring exceptional circumstances,” Miami prosecutors will no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. When it comes to large amounts, enough for felony charges, police will now have to get lab tests to verify if it is real marijuana, not hemp. 

Credit: @fguzmanon7 / Twitter

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a memo that authorities can’t “visually or microscopically” tell the difference between marijuana from hemp, which only has very small amounts of THC chemicals that it’s counterpart does. Now, due to the new law in effect, laboratory testing must be done. 

“Because hemp and cannabis both come from the same plant, they look, smell, and feel the same. There is no way to visually or microscopically distinguish one from the other,” the memo states. “Similarly, since hemp can be – and is – also smoked, there is no olfactory way to distinguish hemp from marijuana.”

Rundle says due to the “Hemp Bill,” state prosecutors now need an expert on hand to testify that a substance is marijuana to prove their cases in court. This also means lab tests will have to be conducted by authorities to verify a substance. However, those lab tests come at quite the price according to Rundle. 

“Up until now, there was no laboratory expense involved in marijuana prosecution cases, as any necessary testimony was from the Miami-Dade Police Department Forensic Services Bureau Crime Laboratory personnel,” the memo reads. “Since every marijuana case will now require an expert, and necessitate a significant expenditure by the State of Florida, barring exceptional circumstances on a particular case, we will not be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.”

The Miami-Dade Police Crime Lab currently doesn’t have the practice to perform a marijuana analysis. But according to Rundle, the department is in the process of developing the methodology to do so.

Credit: @repwilson / Twitter

While the Miami-Dade crime lab currently does not have the capability to test for THC, this is all set to change in the next three to six months. According to Rundle, the eased enforcement of marijuana is a temporary thing until the county lab can perform such tests on their own.

“In the meantime, if there are any DEA certified private labs that can perform such testing in significant cases, and the police departments are willing to pay for such testing, then the prosecution of these cases could move forward,” Rundle said in the memo. “Once the MDPD lab can again conduct such testing themselves, then this all becomes moot. This is just a stumbling block and not a death knell to the prosecution of marijuana cases.”

The decision for the state to stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases highlights the growing obstacles for law enforcement in Florida and across the country in states where recreational marijuana is still considered illegal, but hemp is now allowed.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, prosecutors have been coming across this problem since the bill went into effect in July. They say the added expense of sending marijuana to labs outside of the state and getting expert witnesses to testify in court makes those options “prohibitive in all except the most serious of cases.”

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says the state’s new regulations could be a dangerous move when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws as a whole. “This agency and most agencies around Florida will not be making marijuana arrests,” Snyder told West Palm Beach TV station WPTV. “Until we have a lab that can test, law enforcement efforts around marijuana are dead in the water.”

Nonetheless, as the attitude of marijuana as a whole has loosened in recent years, the enforcement of misdemeanor marijuana cases in Miami were not being prosecuted as aggressively as in the past. This might be a continuing trend in counties an states where hemp is legal but marijuana is not. 

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