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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bill filed to decriminalize marijuana possession for personal use

Sen. José Vargas Vidot

By John McPhaul

With the announcement of President Joseph Biden to pardon federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana, independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot filed Senate Bill 1042 on Tuesday to decriminalize the personal use of cannabis.

“President Biden had the courage that many have lacked here. To say out loud that it makes no sense that there are penalties for simple possession of cannabis,” Vargas Vidot said. “Puerto Rico took the step to make medical marijuana legal but lacked the courage to decriminalize it. Yes, if we are saying that cannabis has medical benefits, then it is not logical to criminalize its consumption. It is time to change this.”

The bill would establish a non-controversial presumption of personal consumption, provided that the amount possessed does not exceed five grams, in this way decriminalizing personal use. The intended effect is to ensure that a person is not accused of distribution, and in turn establishes a minimum number to differentiate personal consumption from distribution, the senator said.

According to data from the profile of the imprisoned population published by the island Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR), in 2019, 65% of inmates had problematic drug use in jail, resulting in around 5,000 people out of a total of 7,000. The same DCR report notes that 8% of men and 11% of women started to use substances when they entered prison.

“Undoubtedly, these figures reflect a problem of availability of substances within the country’s prison institutions,” Vargas Vidot said. “So, people who report that they were not users of substances prior to conviction initiate this process of consumption and addiction within the institution. For those people who were already fighting the disease of drug addiction when entering the penal system, the condition intensifies within it.”

However, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced that he will not be complying with Biden’s executive order in Puerto Rico since, he said, DCR data reveals that there is no one confined for possession of marijuana in Puerto Rico.

“Already the governor said that he will not enforce the executive order, lacking will and courage to take an important step for justice,” Vargas Vidot said. “It is statistically impossible to know the number of people confined for simple possession of marijuana, because when arriving at prison they tell you the law you violated, not the specific drug. Now the question is, who will have the courage to join me and make way for this in Puerto Rico?”

The independent senator was the first legislator to bring to the table a proposal to eliminate all penalties established against any person for simple possession of a controlled substance with Senate Bill 912 in 2018, and although the new measure is focused on marijuana, Vargas Vidot emphasized his desire to decriminalize the simple use of all drugs.

“Even though the goal should be the decriminalization of all drugs, as several advanced jurisdictions have already done successfully, with this proposal we advance the decriminalization of cannabis or marijuana, taking the first step in that direction,” he said.

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