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Puerto Rico ag secretary says without private investment, hemp will stall

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Puerto Rico needs to attract private investment to develop infrastructure for the hemp sector or the U.S. territory risks missing out on the growing industry, newly named Secretary of Agriculture Ramón González said this week.

González, appointed to the agriculture post by the U.S. territory’s new Gov. Pedro Rafael Pierluisi Urrutia, said the sector could face problems if it cannot attract private capital to build hemp processing factories.

“I believe that a lot of expectations were set at the beginning, as in the United States, and it has not started with the speed that was expected,” González told the Noticel website.

‘Waking up at some point’

“I think that to the extent that a factory can be found to process that product, (the sector) will be waking up at some point,” González said, adding his department will be carrying out a hemp feasibility study over the next six months “to find out if this project is going to be carried out or not.”

Puerto Rico established a hemp pilot program in 2019, following approval of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which legalized hemp federally across the U.S. and its territories.

Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development & Commerce (DEDC) said in April last year it had interest in projects adding up to 18,000 acres of land to be developed for industrial hemp farming and processing, not including other private initiatives. Local incentives for registered farmers growing hemp were reported to be in place, and government owned land and manufacturing facilities were available for rent, DEDC said at the time. But those private initiatives have apparently failed to develop so far.

Future unclear

González warned that if investors appear who want to develop hemp production facilities, he sees little future for the sector. “There are multiple uses for hemp, but if we don’t have that factory, the business of investing in the fields is for nothing,” he said.

Licenses already granted for hemp growing by the Department of Agriculture have have led to trials, González said, but he questioned what would be done with any hemp produced in significant quantities.

González said a more optimistic picture is taking shape for Puerto Rico’s potential in medical marijuana, which is experiencing robust private investment worldwide. “I know that there is a need for growth in (marijuana) plantings, because the demand is quite large and we see how the centers and prescriptions have continued to proliferate,” he said, adding the government will be giving “the necessary support” to that sector.

Measure pending

Under a cannabis bill proposed by independent Deputy Zoila Rosa Volio last year, Puerto Rico would work toward industrialization of extracts such as CBD from hemp, and marijuana extracts. Medical cannabis production would be regulated and overseen by the country’s Ministry of Health under the measure, officially the “Law on Cannabis and Hemp Production for Medicinal Purposes.” Rosa Volio said the proposed law could spark development of the pharmaceutical industry, and pre-market value chains starting in agriculture.

Puerto Rico operates under U.S. jurisdiction according to the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. The United States Department of Agriculture approved Puerto Rico’s hemp plan last summer.

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