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Few cantons will enforce Costa Rica’s dry law during the municipal elections

February 4, 2016

Of a total of 81 cantons in Costa Rica, only six will enforce a ban on alcohol sales during upcoming municipal elections on Sunday, according to the National Union of Local Governments (UNGL). That’s just over 7 percent.

Three of the cantons are located in the capital: Acosta, Alajuelita and Montes de Oca. In the rest of the country, the dry cantons are Belén (Heredia), Atenas (Alajuela) and Cañas (Guanacaste).

Costa Rica’s Liquor Law, updated in 2012, allows municipalities to choose whether or not to enforce a ban on liquor sales during public events such as elections, Easter Holy Week and Independence Day, among others. If municipal councils do not decide, the law defaults to allowing liquor sales.

Prior to 2012, the dry law was mandatory. It was amended following complaints from several business owners and chambers, particularly in cantons where the tourism industry is the main economic activity. Owners argued that the dry law was bad for business, particularly for those that depend on foreign tourists. But few Ticos complained when the law was changed to allow liquor sales.

UNGL Executive Director Karen Porras said the recent change to the law “reinforces the autonomy of local governments, allowing them to decide on what’s best for their communities” based on the priorities and traditions of each canton.

The law allows municipalities to ban consumption of alcohol on public roads and in specific areas of the canton.

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