Despacito: Cannabis Legalization in Puerto Rico Moves, But Slowly

Puerto Rico Representative Héctor Ferrer Santiago plans to introduce a bill this month to decriminalize adult-use cannabis. In addition, he raised the prospect of a separate bill that would “regulate where [cannabis] can be consumed and under which circumstances, as with [tobacco].” Medical cannabis is already legal on the island.

This would not be the first time that Puerto Rico’s legislature has considered decriminalization, but its current makeup appears more favorable for passage of such an initiative, with Ferrer’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD) holding 26 of the House of Representative’s 51 seats. The PPD is not exactly an advocate of cannabis reform, but it was the last PPD governor who legalized medical cannabis, and the party’s 2020 gubernatorial candidate favored the “deregulation” of adult-use cannabis. Moreover, a decriminalization bill can all but count on the support of three representatives belonging to smaller parties (MVD and PIP) on the left of the political spectrum.

Should the bill clear the lower house, a similar scenario should play out in the Senate. There, the PPD, MVD, and PIP together hold 15 of the 27 seats. An additional seat is held by José Vargas Vidot, an independent senator who sponsored a decriminalization bill introduced during the past legislature (together with a PPD senator, Miguel Pereira, who in turn had presented a bill during the preceding legislature).

Ferrer “was emphatic” that he is not aiming to legalize adult-use cannabis. Given that he is an authorized medical cannabis user, one wonders if Ferrer truly believes legal adult-use cannabis is a dangerous prospect. It seems more plausible that he is making a political calculation regarding what is acceptable to the Puerto Rican electorate at this time.

In any case, decriminalization would be a welcome development, both for its own sake and as a potential stepping stone toward adult-use cannabis legalization. While we would like to see bolder initiatives, it may be that legalization in Puerto Rico has to move ahead pasito a pasito.