LATINO VOICES
11/12/2013 03:51 pm ET

Why Legalizing Marijuana In Puerto Rico Is A Hard Sell

Gary Morrison via Getty Images

Smoking weed in Puerto Rico will no longer be a crime punishable with jail, if one legislator has his way.

The Puerto Rican legislature has debated the idea of reducing marijuana regulation in recent weeks -- including proposals to decriminalize the drug or legalize its medical use -- but legislative proposals have stalled.

The island’s conservative attitude toward the soft drug may be undermining legislators’ attempts to decriminalize it. A poll by Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día reported last week that a whopping 70 percent opposed decriminalizing marijuana. Legalization received almost the same amount of resistance, with 71 percent opposing. Some 60 percent of respondents opposed legalizing the medical use of marijuana.

The co-author of the medical marijuana bill, Puerto Rican Rep. José Báez, said he’d hold off on his bill for now, in light of the lack of support reflected in last week’s poll. But Pereira says he’ll push ahead with an amended version of the decriminalization bill.

“As leaders, we have to take the country where it has to go, even if they don’t like the path,” Pereira said, referring to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. “Fear of change is a strong force.”

Under Pereira’s proposal, marijuana would remain illegal in Puerto Rico, but possession of less than an ounce would be punished with fines ranging from $100 to $500 instead of jail time. Marijuana possession today carries penalties of up to three years in jail and fines of up to $5,000.

Though Pereira says the amended legislation has support, he may not have enough time to push it through the legislature this session, which closes on Thursday. He says he’ll take it up again next session if it fails to pass.

The legislator’s proposal has at least one prominent supporter from off the island. During a performance in the island’s capital of San Juan earlier this month, Snoop Lion called on his fans to “smoke weed, Puerto Rico!” and appeared to smoke a joint on stage, according to Diario Metro de Puerto Rico.

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