Could Medical Marijuana Relieve Puerto Rico’s Debt?

Could Medical Marijuana Relieve Puerto Rico’s Debt?

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A newly implemented medical marijuana program could be an economic life raft for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In a territory with a $70 billion public debt and a declining population due to job scarcity, a brand new lucrative industry could seems like a godsend to some.

Though medical cannabis was legalized in 2015, Gov. Ricardo Rossello only signed a measure to create a workable infrastructure for the program last month. As of now, the area has 27 dispensaries, 11 grow facilities, five manufacturing centers and two testing laboratories in operation.

When the medical marijuana machine gets into full swing, it could generate as much as $100 million a year, according to territory’s treasury secretary. So far, more than $3 million has spent on health licenses for cannabis businesses on the island, according to The Associated Press.

“A lot of people were waiting for this law,” attorney Goodwin Aldarondo, president of consulting company Puerto Rico Legal Marijuana, told the AP. “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.”

But some are not so sure the new industry will work that kind of magic. According to Puerto Rico economist Indira Luciano, these expectations fail to take into account hindrances on the market such as low wages and a 45 percent poverty rate. Between that, a relatively small population, and the fact that only medical, not recreational, marijuana is legal on the island, Puerto Rico should not expect a money machine akin to the one seen in Colorado. That state takes in $200 million last year.

According to Luciano, a legal recreational cannabis market would make a bigger difference. “The stricter the law, the less economic impact it will have,” she says.

Puerto Rico does have some advantages over many U.S. states when it comes to marijuana, however. Industry taxes are lower and less stringent than in the U.S. proper. So, hopefully sensimilla can save the day.

Photo via Flickr user Dank Depot

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