In an unexpected move late Sunday, Puerto Rico's governor signed an executive order to authorize the use of medical marijuana in the U.S. territory. The order went into immediate effect.
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla gave the island's health secretary has three months to issue a report detailing how the executive order will be instituted, the impact it will have and what future steps need to be taken.
"We're taking a significant step in the area of health that is fundamental to our development and quality of life," García said in a statement. "I am sure that many patients will receive appropriate treatment that will offer them new hope."
The order mandates the health department to authorize the use of some or all controlled substances or derivatives of the hemp plant for medical use.
García said the government also will outline the specific authorized uses of marijuana and its derivatives for medical purposes. Medical marijuana is used in the U.S. mainland and elsewhere to treat pain associated with migraines and illnesses including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and AIDS.
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 U.S. states, and a group of U.S. legislators is seeking to remove federal prohibitions against it. In the Caribbean, Jamaica recently passed a law that partially decriminalized small amounts of pot and paves the way for a lawful medical marijuana sector.
Jaime Perello, president of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, said he supported García's order.
"It's a step in the right direction," he said. "One of the benefits that patients say they receive the most is pain relief."
The move came after lengthy public debate on the issue which appeared to stall the legislative process. García's move puts Puerto Rican drug policy on par with some of the most progressive states in the world and is considered to be a win for the island nation, which lacks the resources to police aggressive drug prohibitions.