Puerto Rico's Governor Just Made A Big Move On Medical Marijuana

May 6th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

In a surprise move this week, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana, making the island the latest U.S. jurisdiction to legalize the drug for medical purposes.

Although the specific authorized uses for the drug and its iterations have yet to be fully detailed, the order went into effect immediately. It's just the latest development concerning medical marijuana in Puerto Rico, where it has long been the subject of public debate. 

"We're taking a significant step in the area of health that is fundamental to our development and quality of life," García Padilla said in a statement. "I am sure that many patients will receive appropriate treatment that will offer them new hope."

García Padilla pointed to research that has underscored the positive health impacts the drug can have in hard-to-treat maladies.

"These studies support the use of the plant to relieve pain cause by multiple sclerosis, AIDS virus, glaucoma, Alzheimer's disease, migraine, Parkinson's and other diseases that often do not respond to traditional treatments," he said. "This administration is committed to ensuring the health of all citizens residing in our country. Hence the medical use we are adopting is an innovative measure to ensure the welfare and a better quality of life for these patients." 

Legislators in Puerto Rico considered a bill legalizing medical marijuana in 2013, but they failed to bring it to a final vote. Sunday's directive corrects that, but also leaves controlled substance laws in what opposition legislator Jennifer Gonzalez called "judicial limbo," the Associated Press reports. García Padilla gave the island's health secretary three months to formulate a report laying out how the order will be implemented, as well as its impact and what the future might hold. Under the order, the health department will authorize "some or all controlled substances or derivatives" of the plant for medical use, according to the AP. 

Practical questions persist, like what will fall on either side of the "distinction between medical and non-medical uses" and whether or not residents will be able to grow their own plants or rely on imported crops. Those questions and others will likely be addressed in the health department's report a few months down the road. 

The Caribbean commonwealth joins 23 U.S. states with legalized medical uses, and at least four with legalized recreational uses. Many other states have moved to decriminalize marijuana, and states like Florida and California are expected to have ballot measures legalizing the plant in upcoming elections. Marijuana is currently still classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government, which means that it has no accepted medical uses.