Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and with it, it’s medical marijuana program. Like much else, it’s been set back six months – maybe a lot longer.
None of the outdoor cannabis cultivation facilities made it through the storm and few dispensaries are standing. The dispensaries that made it are open and serving those who can get to them.
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It was September 20 when Maria made landfall, and the wind was blowing at 200mph. Torrential rain pounded the island and caused flash flooding. It’s estimated that 36 people lost their lives and that the US territory lost around $100 billion.
It also decimated the island’s budding medical cannabis program. Greenhouses were simply blown away, explained Walter Melendez, an attorney based in Puerto Rico out of Colorado’s Hoban Law Group. “They don’t exist. We lost it all,” he said.
The Puerto Rico Medical Cannabis Association is on a fact finding hunt to see just how much business owners lost and how many expenses were incurred.
Now, three weeks after the horrific hurricane, around nine indoor cultivation spaces and 19 out of 29 cannabis dispensaries are operational thanks to generators and tanks of water.
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The majority of Puerto Rico’s existing electricity (at 11 percent capacity) goes to hospitals, airports and some government buildings, leaving only 20 percent of the island’s population with internet or cellular communication. 40 percent of residents don’t have access to clean drinking water.
Melendez only expects a few cultivators to come out the other side with a viable business. “Only the people with large pockets will survive this year,” he said grimly.
On the positive side, the government of Puerto Rico is prioritizing the medical cannabis industry for aid, after pressing priorities such as hospitals, of course.
The Puerto Rico Department of Health also put out an emergency order, allowing cannabis patients who are registered to a particular dispensary to be allowed go to any operational dispensary that they can get to.
“The government really did step up in a time of crisis,” said Javier Vergne, CEO of Encanto Giving Tree Wellness Center. “It definitely gives me more confidence that they’re going to work with us to make the industry work.
“It’s a pretty devastating blow when you lose what you’ve been building over a year,” Vergne added, “but when you look at what other people have lost, it’s nothing.”