Sen. Miguel Pereira, who sponsors the bill, is a former federal prosecutor who says the war on marijuana is a win-less effort. He said that possession cases are wasting government money and said that as many as 80 percent of people in jail are there for nonviolent crimes.
Senate Bill 517 would simply remove the penalties for marijuana possession for up to an ounce. It does not allow for cultivation, or discuss any sort of regulated cannabis industry. In support, activist took to the streets on Saturday, marching through San Juan with banners, yelling for legalization support.
Not everyone is in support, though, and there seems to still be some dated ideas on cannabis in the Puerto Rico legislature. “It’s outrageous that someone who was elected by the people tries to use his position to cause addiction, sicken and destroy Puerto Rican society,” Sen. Itzamar Pena said to USA Today.
Police say that legalizing marijuana – even just small amounts for personal use – would only encourage violence on the island of about 3.7 million.
But other officials seem open to the idea. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla says he doesn’t have a problem with open debate and that the idea has it’s merits. But he also added that it’s not a priority for him or his administration right now.
Puerto Rico isn’t the only Caribbean island considering easing up on the ganja penalties. According to USA Today, Jamaican officials are also reviewing their policies and have considered decriminalization of small amounts – a move that has support from several political and religious leaders.
Possession of any amount of cannabis is a felony charge in Puerto Rico with between two and five years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. A second offense could net you up to 10 years for any amount an additional $5,000 fine. Paraphernalia possession – which the bill does not address – is also a felony punishable by up to five years and $5,000.
San Juan, Puerto Rico.