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Medical marijuana proposal in Costa Rica gets Health Ministry review

June 2, 2015

The Costa Rican Health Ministry outlined its expert opinion on a pending bill to legalize marijuana and hemp for medical and industrial use in Costa Rica. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry outlined how the medical marijuana bill would be implemented with some restrictions for users.

Ruling Citizen Action Party (PAC) lawmaker Marvin Atencio presented a bill in August 2014 that would legalize the growing, processing and sale of cannabis for medical and industrial use. Costa Rica would be the first country in Central America to legalize medical marijuana if lawmakers decide to pass the proposal.

The ministry did not torpedo the bill’s medical uses for marijuana but warned that recreational marijuana use was illegal. The statement said that the health authority would prohibit smoking marijuana as a way to ingest THC, the active ingredient of cannabis.

Medical marijuana would only be approved as a “last resort” treatment after all other options have been exhausted. Patients would have to go to a pharmacy to access prescription pot. Dispensaries, common in U.S. states where the drug has been legalized, would not be allowed.

The bill’s sponsor told The Tico Times that he was not concerned with the “last resort” phrasing.

“Marijuana is part of alternative medicine. This is just the legal way of expressing it. As a doctor, I’m not concerned about it,” Atencio said.

Users of medical marijuana under the bill would not be issued identification cards, the ministry said, something required in the original bill. The ministry said that issuing ID cards to medical marijuana users would be discriminatory. Instead, the Health Ministry and the Costa Rican Social Security System, the country’s socialized health care system, would follow existing rules for special prescriptions.

Atencio said that he did not agree with the ministry’s move against ID cards for legal marijuana users.

“In the legal environment of this country, the cards are needed to protect medical marijuana users,” he said, citing potential confusion for law enforcement if they find pot on someone.

The ministry added that there is no current law prohibiting the the registration or commercialization of medicine, food or cosmetics made from cannabis.

A medical marijuana conference, CannaCosta 2015, is set to take place in San José on June 6-7, on the heels of the Health Ministry’s opinion. The conference claimed to be the first of its kind in Central America to bring together doctors, scientists, business leaders and politicians to discuss the legal medical and industrial use of marijuana and hemp. Seats are free but limited.

Atencio said that the bill is still far down on the agenda for discussion in a commission before it can reach the floor for a vote. The PAC lawmaker said he is more hopeful when an extraordinary session begins in August and Casa Presidencial sets the legislative agenda.

“We’re very happy to see a positive response from the Health Ministry. This is an important bill for the country,”Atencio said.

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