While the fledgling medicinal cannabis industry is flourishing in Puerto Rico, lawmakers are considering amendments to the medical cannabis law. Senate Bill 1317 has received mixed reactions from various health professionals on the island.
The bill, filed by Senate President Tomás Rivera Schatz, has been approved by the Senate and is under the consideration of the House.
The proposed amendments would set clear parameters on what constitutes a bona fide doctor-patient relationship; require a physical examination by doctors; modify requirements on continuing education and training; and temporarily halt new licenses for dispensaries, crops and/or manufacturing from being issued until a market study is carried out by the Health Department.
In addition, the amendments would eliminate the requirement that authorized doctors have licenses and insist that the members of the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board do not have any economic or personal interests in the medical cannabis industry that results in a conflict of interest in the entity’s decision-making process.
As previously reported by THE WEEKLY JOURNAL, statistics from the Medicinal Cannabis Office show that 101 dispensaries across Puerto Rico serve a population of 112,363 registered cannabis patients, concentrated mostly in the northeast section of the island. To date, the industry generates a monthly average of $4 million in sales, according to government figures.
Denise Maldonado Rosa, executive director of the Medicinal Cannabis Program at the Health Department, told lawmakers that she supports the measure, with the caveat that the proposed amendments conform to the regulations of Law for the Use of Telemedicine in Puerto Rico.
“In this way, [the medical cannabis law] has the advantage that it provides access to those who cannot physically go to the doctor’s office, so they can obtain the necessary medical recommendation necessary for certification as a new patient or renewal,” she said.
Maldonado added that the amendments also meet the Health Department’s regulation that medical practitioners take six continuing education courses every year.
However, she did express concerns about identifying funds for the market study to be carried out, as the regulatory board’s $1.8 million budget has already been earmarked.
“We know the importance of the [market] study that this Legislature wants to carry out, so we are mentioning that the budget of the board is fully committed to its administrative needs,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico College of Surgeons President Víctor Ramos Otero objected to the amendments, saying that the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Pharmacy should not have the power to evaluate and accredit continuing education courses for doctors in medical cannabis.
“There is no reason or justification to delegate the accreditation of continuing education of medical cannabis doctors to the School of Pharmacy. That delegation to the School of Pharmacy is unnecessary when there are already two entities with the resources, the legal authority and the experience to evaluate and regulate continuing education for doctors,” Ramos said, noting that the Licensing and Discipline Board and the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education have the legal authority to regulate the practice of medicine.
Also expressing concerns about the continuing education requirements was the president of the CannaWork Institute, Milton Burgos Bula.
In related news, Tropizen, a licensed local cultivator and manufacturer of medical cannabis products, announced the launch of the first locally manufactured line of cannabis tinctures incorporating herbal ingredients and pharmaceutical technology, designed to alleviate the symptoms of a variety of health conditions.
“We carefully researched scientifically proven herbal remedies, many of which are featured in Puerto Rico’s own cultural traditions. To create the final product, we combined the best of old-world herbal blends with the latest drug delivery technology, using specific ratios of THC to CBD and including strain-specific effects from indicas and sativas [cannabis strains],” said Tropizen co-founder Marni Meistrell.