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Costa Rica medical marijuana project advances

Costa Rica is taking the next steps with a bill that seeks to legalize medical marijuana and the production of hemp.

On Tuesday, project 21.388 (“Law on Cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic use and Hemp for food and industrial use”) was approved in a first debate by the Legislative Assembly with 33 votes in favor and 13 against.

The proposal has a long way to go before becoming law, including a second debate by the same legislative body and a signature from President Carlos Alvarado. Notably, the Health Ministry (and President Alvarado) have voiced concerns about legalizing medical marijuana.

Still, the project represents the most concrete action Costa Rica has taken toward legalizing these products with significant economic potential.

The bill is promoted by lawmaker Zoila Rosa Volio, an agronomist by training, who believes in the great economic benefits of growing and exporting hemp and marijuana plants. PROCOMER, the Costa Rican agency in charge of promoting exports, says there is an annual global market of $5.7 billion in the industry.

“It is a market of billions of dollars and Costa Rica could be part of it,” Volio said in a 2020 interview.

Anyone who has spent more than approximately 60 seconds in Jacó or Tamarindo knows marijuana is readily obtainable in Costa Rica. 

While production of cannabis products is illegal in Costa Rica, many lawyers (and, importantly, police) agree that personal possession is decriminalized.

Still, it’s a long way from legal. Article 58 of the country’s Law on Narcotic Drugs stipulates the following:

A prison sentence of eight to fifteen years shall be imposed on whoever, without legal authorization, distributes, trades, supplies, manufactures, elaborates, refines, transforms, extracts, prepares, cultivates, produces, transports, stores or sells drugs, substances or the products referred to in this Law, or cultivate the plants from which such substances or products are obtained.

Lawyers consulted by the daily La Nación assured that Costa Rica’s drug law “punishes everything related exclusively to drug trafficking, but does not punish personal consumption.” 

While nothing in Costa Rican law defines the amount allowed as “personal consumption,” the experts agreed that “the only thing authorities can do if they find crops for personal consumption is confiscate them and, in some cases, destroy them.” 

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