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Friday, February 23, 2024

Costa Rica Weighs Crime, Health Factors in Marijuana Legalization Bid

Costa Rica finds itself divided over President Chaves’ latest call to legalize recreational marijuana use amid intensifying national debates over security and the drug trade’s role in surging violence nationwide.

During a press conference this week, President Chaves tied his arguments directly to confronting widespread drug trafficking operations active locally. “Costa Rica was a net exporter of marijuana for many years, and now we are importing very large quantities. It is a serious problem,” emphasized Chaves.

The president reignited this polarizing issue shortly after legislators rejected a proposed cannabis legalization bill in August 2022. The draft Law for the Control and Regulation of Cannabis for Recreational Use aimed to create a regulated marijuana market but fell five votes short of passage in the legislative Environment Commission.

Chaves directly linked legalization to combatting drug smugglers, stating, “I have to admit, we believe that marijuana consumption should be legal. But as long as it remains illegal, these ships that bring it into the country will continue to be sponsored.”

Several deputies across parties echoed Chaves’ perspective. Manuel Morales, President of the Environment Commission that oversees the stalled legalization bill, agrees the goal is regulating existing demand rather than promoting more usage.

“The marijuana market in Costa Rica is important; it is $120 million per year, and taking a slice of that to drug trafficking so that the Costa Rican State receives it and invests it in security, health, and education on drug abuse would be an important contribution to the country,” explained Morales.

Fellow deputy Daniela Rojas of the Social Christian Party also vocalized support, arguing international examples prove legalization aids both economic growth and anti-crime efforts. “I think it is important for the country to move forward in this discussion,” Rojas stated. “We have international examples of countries such as Uruguay, Canada, and some states in the United States where its legalization has contributed to economic development, but also to the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.”

However, some legislators remain fiercely opposed, especially from the opposition National Liberation Party (PLN). Deputy Dinorah Barquero alleged the bill lacks sufficient study of potential public health impacts from increased cannabis use. Meanwhile, fellow PLN member Gilbert Jiménez labeled Chaves’ legalization push as “inopportune” given the scale of Costa Rica’s security challenges with homicides and criminal groups.

“With actions like these, we would put the security of our country at greater risk,” argued Jiménez.

This divide both within and between parties suggests challenging legislative math for Chaves and allies to actually pass a law legalizing recreational cannabis sales and usage. But the president appears committed to force public debate on tying the issue to confronting the deepening impacts of drug smuggling and related violence gripping Costa Rica.

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