Puerto Rico Considers Decriminalization of Pot

Raises the Challenge of Federal Authority

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico may join the growing number of US jurisdictions that have decriminalized or legalized the purchase, sale, and use of marijuana. PR Senate bill 517 would do just that, and the proposal has sparked the usual debate about drugs and the question of legalization.

Regardless of what the Commonwealth does, US federal law would remain the same. The Obama administration, however, is studying a “hands off” approach to those states whose voters have agreed to legalize pot.

But territories don’t always get the same treatment as states or independent countries.

During hearings in the Senate September 17, Jose Vargas Vidot, executive director of the group Iniciativa Comunitaria, offered conditional support for the concept. He along with others is seeking a new regulatory agency to manage marijuana sales and wants the legislation to cover other drugs as well.

It is not clear if the proposal has enough support to pass. For reference, a similar proposal to legalize prostitution met with a quick rejection by the island’s governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla.

Regardless of what finally happens, few government policies have accomplished a failure as monumental as the war on drugs. Despite decades of evidence that the war creates far more problems than it resolves, it is still a staunchly defended by members of both sides of the political spectrum, although Democrats and Libertarians tend to favor ending it more than conservatives.

Nevertheless, only complete sovereignty offers the opportunity to make and change laws without the interference of a higher political authority — from the federal government, that is. Granted, there is the United Nations, but its charters claims to respect the sovereignty of nations — although admittedly they have postured to get in the way.

In A Puerto Rican Manifesto, I propose establishing red light districts for the sale and use of drugs, prostitution, and gambling operations that otherwise would be held in clandestine locations. Under the proposal, business operators would have to agree to abide by the law (and stop killing) and share profits with a national trust. The trust would share some of those profits with individual citizens, while investing the bulk of that money to continue growing a trust capable of helping the island sustain a long term balanced economy.

That wouldn’t be the only source of revenue. However, given the billions of dollars spent on drugs in Puerto Rico each year and the tourism interest that such districts would attract, it would likely be one of the biggest contributors to the size of the trust during the critical early years after independence.

There are plenty of ideas on the table and chances of passage may be thin, but it is good to see Puerto Rico’s government tackling one of the difficult issues despite its sovereign disadvantage.

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