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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Costa Rica’s Marijuana Dilemma: Legality vs. Reality

Recently, the Permanent Special Environment Commission voted 5-3 to reject a proposal from the Executive Branch of the Costa Rican government that aimed to legalize and regulate the production, sale and consumption of recreational marijuana in Costa Rica.

The opponents rolled out the same arguments against legalization that have been used for decades, such as ‘’endangering youth’’ and the potential strain on healthcare, as well as the new ‘’risk’’ of attracting what one politico called marijuana tourism. The irony of course is that for all intent and purposes, weed is legal here. Use is far more common than a generation ago.

Last week I was in San Jose for three days and walked through much of the central area of the city each day. All told, I passed at least a dozen people on the street, openly smoking weed. On a couple occasions, there were cops on patrol nearby, who were indifferent to the smokers.

Small time dealers and individual users have little to fear from our laissez-faire law enforcement. The only people running a risk when it comes to the ganja world in Costa Rica are the major growers.

You still read about plantations being eradicated in the Talamanca mountains, or indoor growers who arouse suspicion when their monthly electric bill spikes by a zillion per cent. As for the arguments against, they have little to do with reality. The endangered youth angle has been used as a bogeyman since the days of Reefer Madness a century ago. Anybody who was ever a teen remembers the thrill of doing something your parents, and the authority figures deemed illicit.

As for the potential strain on health care, if the government is serious about this, the first thing they should do is divest from the liquor industry. Cacique rots countless brains and livers throughout the country, and it is produced by Fanal, the Fabrica Nacional de Licores.

All those desperate people you see in the urban areas, sleeping in the park, begging money on the street– if they are abusing any substance, it is most likely alcohol, not weed. As for the ‘’risk’’ of marijuana tourism, Costa Rica is already world famous for its tourism; if anything, legalized weed would only enhance the experience for those visitors who enjoy a toke while enjoying all the country has to offer.

Here is the present reality: If I want to buy marijuana, I know half a dozen different people I can call. As voracious as the government is when it comes to getting a piece of the action, it is amazing they are letting this opportunity to raise tax money pass. More people are using than ever. People are not going to stop smoking just because some government suits have declared it still illegal.

 And those in power that do not want legalization, may be surprised to learn that many users are fine with the present status. If it is legalized, one friend told me, the contracts for growing, selling and distributing will predictably be handed out to the most connected of the ruling class of the country.

In place of the happy anarchy, we have now, one can imagine they would likely codify laws making it illegal for anyone but the select, connected few, to grow and distribute.

Quality would suffer, as it would all be in the hands of growers who don’t know trichomes from triglycerides. My own guess is it will be completely legalized by the end of this decade. Medical marijuana is already legal, although I don’t know a single person who bothers getting it via prescription, when it is so easily obtainable through other channels.

The economic reality of the revenue to be raised through legalization will eventually defeat the virtue signaling being done by a misguided minority of power brokers, and the legal distribution and sale will then become something determined by good old supply and demand.

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