A senator in Puerto Rico has filed a bill to remove penalties for low-level marijuana possession in the U.S. territory, motivated by President Joe Biden’s recent cannabis pardons action.
Independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot introduced the legislation on Tuesday, applauding the president for having “the courage that many here have lacked to say out loud that it does not make sense that there are penalties for simple possession of cannabis.”
He said the bill is all the more necessary given that the governor of the territory has indicated he will not be taking up Biden’s call to issue clemency to people with local convictions. Several other governors have said that they’d be reviewing their authority to that end.
“In Puerto Rico, the step towards [enacting medical cannabis legalization] was taken, but the courage to decriminalize was lacking,” Vidot said, according to a translation. “If we are saying that cannabis has medical benefits, it is not logical to criminalize those who consume it. It is time to change this.”
The full text of the proposal is not yet available, but an official summary says it would “eliminate all penalties established against any person for possession for personal use of marijuana,” according to a translation. It would also be applied retroactively and “establish a non-controversial presumption” that cannabis would be considered personal consumption.
A news report said it would apply to possession of up to five grams of marijuana, though distribution would continue to be criminalized and there wouldn’t be any adult-use retailers for legal access.
Vidot has also called for broader drug decriminalization, according to Telemundo Puerto Rico.
A spokesperson for Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia (D), who has backed modest cannabis reform legislation but made dismissive remarks about the benefits of adult-use legalization this year, signaled that the official would not be taking steps to issue cannabis clemency in line with Biden’s request.
Vidot said that the governor’s response shows that he is “lacking the will and courage to take an important step for justice.”
“Even though the goal should be the decriminalization of all drugs, as several advanced jurisdictions have already successfully done, with this proposal, we advance the decriminalization of cannabis or marijuana, taking the first step in that direction,” he added.
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A Puerto Rico Justice Department official separately told Noticias Sin that the government takes a “therapeutic approach” to drug enforcement for people with substance misuse disorders, seemingly downplaying the urgency of administrative clemency action.
Meanwhile, the governor of another territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), renewed his call to legalize marijuana this summer, putting pressure on the legislature to enact the reform as a revenue generator that he says is long overdue.
The governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) signed a bill to end prohibition in 2018.
The following year, the governor of Guam signed legalization into law.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.