Last month, in Puerto Rico: November Recreational Cannabis Surprise ?, we suggested that a victory for opposition candidate Charlie Delgado “could be Puerto Rico’s best shot at recreational cannabis legalization”. Delgado did not allow the race until 2 p.m. local time on November 5th. However, results so far suggest that the island’s next governor will be Pedro Pierluisi, who previously served as congress delegate in Puerto Rico. Pierluisi met with the Democrats during his congress, but his main affiliation is the New Progressive Party (PNP), which campaigns for statehood.
At first glance, a Pierluisi government doesn’t seem like a good sign for cannabis legalization. Pierluisi already expressed “concern” about the government at the time in 2015. Alejandro García Padilla’s order to legalize medical cannabis. In 2013, he made it clear that he was against the decriminalization of cannabis.
Of course, five or seven years is a long time in politics, especially when it comes to topics where public opinion is changing rapidly. It is therefore possible that Pierluisi’s views on cannabis have evolved since then. However, there is no evidence of such a shift in the public record.
At this point it is hard to imagine an impetus for cannabis reform from the governor’s mansion. The legislature could be a different story, however. Delgado’s party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), appears to have a larger number of seats in both chambers than the PNP, and there will be a greater presence of third parties than in previous years. The PPD may need to work with these parties to achieve majorities. Alexandra Lúgaro, the leader of one of the newly represented parties, is openly in favor of legalizing cannabis, as is the leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Juan Dalmau (the PIP has been around since 1946, but under Dalmau she has gubernatorial election sixfold).
Overall, forces outside the traditional PNP-PPD duopoly showed unprecedented strength in this year’s elections. Pierluisi will certainly know the fact that he was elected with around 33% of the vote, compared to the 42% that former governor Ricardo Rosselló received in 2016. Lúgaro took 14% of the vote and Dalmau wasn’t far behind. Another third-party candidate won another 7% of the vote, showing a growing desire for nontraditional political alternatives. It is to be expected that Pierluisi will look for ways to counteract this rising tide. At the very least, it may give him a break before opposing measures to legalize recreational cannabis.
Changes can also occur within the PNP. With more and more US states embracing recreational cannabis, including very conservative ones, the party for statehood may increasingly warm to legalization.