• The San Juan Daily Star

Referendum proposed on legalizing marijuana for personal use

By John McPhaul

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Orlando José Aponte Rosario, chairman of the Legal Committee in the island House of Representatives, filed a bill Wednesday proposing a public referendum to decide whether or not to legalize the possession of marijuana for personal use.

The legislation, which is co-authored by PDP Rep. Juan José Santiago Nieves and New Progressive Party Reps. Joel Franqui Atiles and José “Che” Pérez Cordero, proposes that the possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana should not be considered a criminal offense.

“The purpose of this legislative measure is to open the issue and whether or not duly registered voters in Puerto Rico wish to legalize the simple possession of marijuana directed at personal consumption with non-criminal administrative offenses,” Aponte Rosario said. “State-of-the-art legislation has been passed in the past few years to allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. However, around so-called recreational use, a punitive approach has been closely maintained where incarceration is not only an expressly prescribed punishment, but is the most frequently used penalty. The problems of drug addiction and consumption must be separated from the punitive approach, the criminal sanction.”

The House measure states that criminally exempting all cases of possession of 14 grams or less will significantly relieve the pressure to which law enforcement agencies and the judicial and penitentiary systems are subjected.

Aponte Rosario also stressed that “an effective use of resources is encouraged, which should be used to prosecute those crimes related to the sale and distribution of controlled substances, which certainly generate a real social problem in terms of violence.”

The legislator said public policy in Puerto Rico must comply with the eight priorities issued by the federal government in the mainland United States, in accordance with the Federal Controlled Substances Act and the memoranda issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, to the effect of linking the general prohibition of the possession and use of marijuana with the federal sphere. The priorities are:

* Prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors.

* Prevent proceeds from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal gangs.

* Prevent the diversion of marijuana from the state where its legal use has been permitted to other states.

* Prevent the authorized handling of marijuana from being used as a pretext to conceal the trafficking of other drugs or other illegal activity.

* Prevent violence and the use of weapons in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

* Prevent drugged driving and alleviate other adverse public health consequences related to marijuana use.

* Prevent the growing of crops on public land or property to avoid the risk to public and environmental safety that this entails.

* Prevent the possession or use of marijuana on federal government property.

“In accordance with the foregoing, it is recognized that our schools must remain as drug-free zones and therefore, the penalty established in Article 411-A of Act No. 4 of June 23, 1971, as amended, for even simple possession must continue to act as a deterrent to keep all types of drugs away from our children, so that efforts must be redirected to combat drug trafficking and crime, and to redistribute resources toward the treatment of drug addiction, which is so devastating,” Aponte Rosario said.

“International trends on the possession and sale of cannabis show that states of the American union have decriminalized or legalized marijuana for personal use or recreational purposes,” the lawmaker added. “However, in several states this decision has been consulted with residents through popular vote, and that is what we propose.”

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