For many people, Puerto Rico, nicknamed, “The Island of Enchantment,” brings to mind images of sunny beaches, surf and the beauty of El Yunque—the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Parks system. You’re probably not thinking about weed.
One might assume all the good ganja in the Caribbean is in Jamaica, but that would be a mistake. Puerto Ricans love their marijuana, and it doesn’t seem hard to find good bud at decent prices, at least in San Juan.
Puerto Ricans enjoy weed so much that their 4/20 celebrations, events and political rallies spanned four days this year. From the west side of the island to the capital, residents came out en masse to enjoy, educate and fight for access to everyone’s favorite plant. Some of us in the States could use their energy and dedication to the cause as an inspiration.
One of the larger and more politically active events was the march to “El Capitolio,” in San Juan, home to the House of Representatives and Senate of Puerto Rico. This event definitely had the attention of the authorities. At 4:20pm, trying to decrease the flow of protesters, police put up a roadblock along the route. Despite their efforts, the crowd swelled as news cameras filmed people blowing out sweet clouds of cannabis smoke.
All the traditional markings of a cannabis fest were certainly there. There was a variety of music, and the organization Free Juana provided food for the crowd. Of course the air was filled with those familiar clouds, and the police were ever-present. According to activist Narley Cortes, despite the heavy police presence, there were no reports of arrests—unlike last year.
Another encouraging aspect of the rally was the diversity of people that came to show support.
From families with young children to the very elderly to everyone in between, the whole spectrum was represented at the event. Not only that, but a couple of politicians came to speak publicly about the facts and their feelings toward cannabis on the island. Facts like—over 50 percent of the island has tried weed at least once and that there is enough evidence to support the medical benefits of cannabis.
Although the arguments laid out are all very familiar to the cannabis community, it was a great feeling to hear elected officials, like Senator Miguel Pereira Castillo and Representative Luis Vega Ramos, say positive things about cannabis in such a public forum.
Arguments for increased access to weed—like “it’s good for people’s health,” “it’s good for the economy,” and “it’s especially good for the elderly”—were all common refrains. But it was incredibly refreshing to hear a government official say that, “No one should go to jail for a plant.”
The more forward thinking politicians that the marijuana movement can get on board, the better, which is why we need more rallies like this, as well as more intimate educational events like the one held on 4/20 in Mayagüez.
The event in Mayagüez, which is on the western side of Puerto Rico, was hosted by D’Lab By Dmlo and Vive Boriken at D’Lab’s clothing store. As this was the first cannabis event ever held in Mayagüez, the organizers thought the event should be education-focused for people who might not be familiar with using cannabis legally as a medicine. There were doctors onsite to help educate people who were completely new to medical marijuana or who had used it before but maybe not in the most medical fashion.
One doctor said their reason for being there was to especially, “educate older people about the properties of the cannabis plant and it’s methods of administration,” and that they wanted, “to break the taboo most of the older generation have that marijuana is a gateway drug.”
And it was opportune that the doctor was there, as there seems to be a healthy interest surrounding cannabis amongst the older generation in Puerto Rico. An elderly attendee at the event extolled the virtues of cannabis, saying, “all of us older people need to use it for our aches and pains.”
Aside from educating Puerto Ricans about the benefits of medical marijuana, another goal of the event was to educate people about the legal aspects associated with pot.
Many Puerto Rican residents are not even aware that they can legally get access to safe, lab-tested, medical marijuana. They still have the government propaganda stuck in their head that weed is bad.
Miadzaee Rosario, of Vive Boriken, said that she wanted, “to change people’s minds about the concept of cannabis and let people know that it’s not a crime…we just have to educate ourselves a little bit more so we can socially break the ‘taboo’ that marijuana has in Puerto Rico.”
Aimeé Montoya, founder of Vive Boriken, said that events like the one in Mayagüez will, “help begin erasing the stigma of marijuana as a dangerous street drug.”
Of course it wasn’t all about learning in Mayagüez; no cannabis event would be complete without a little entertainment. On display were some celebrations of the enhanced creative capabilities cannabis can give certain people. Weed-inspired art, music and food was available for attendees to enjoy.
This was the first cannabis focused event in the city, but certainly not the last.
To put an end-cap to the 4/20 weekend, the Puerto Rico Cannabis Club organized the Medical Cannabis Fest on Sunday, April 23, at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico in the capital of San Juan.
Jimmy Diaz, founder of the Puerto Rico Cannabis Club, estimated that the event drew about 1,500 attendees. His mission with the Medical Cannabis Fest was, “to open the dialogue between patients, doctors, legislatures and companies,” and especially, “to educate the Latin community in Puerto Rico and worldwide.”
One of the reasons for the large draw might have been the vast array of activities and seminars.
There were a number of different seminars lead by doctors, lawyers, political activists and even individual patients. With all of that newfound information flowing, it was sure to convince some people to get their medical marijuana card. Doctors were onsite to evaluate potential patients and give medical marijuana recommendations, when appropriate.
In Puerto Rico, in order to get your medical marijuana card, you also need to see a lawyer and have your doctor’s recommendation certified, so lawyers were also on-hand to assist in the process.
Again it wasn’t all education and serious political discussion—there was plenty of entertainment. Music, food and tattoo artists added to the excitement of the event.
One attendee noted that many professionals, companies and industry leaders might have stayed away due to the counter-culture vibe given off by these types of extracurricular activities. That being said, the Medical Cannabis Fest was considered a success, and we can’t wait to see what the Puerto Rico Cannabis Club has in store for their “Patient Conference” coming this summer.
As you can tell, there is a lot going on in the cannabis community in Puerto Rico.
With a multitude of events and activists like these, it is only a matter of time before the island is, “taking advantage of cannabis as a tool for… growth,” as Miadzee Rosario put it. This growth is not only limited to the Puerto Rican economy, but also extends to the Puerto Rican people’s health, consciousness and freedoms.
Watch out Jamaica, Puerto Rico may be coming for your title of Cannabis Capital of the Caribbean.