Costa Rica's Medical Marijuana & Hemp Legislation Shot down

Costa Rica's Medical Marijuana & Hemp Legislation Shot down

Several countries worldwide are trying to ease into cannabis legalization, but for Costa Rica, it might take a bit longer than expected. 

According to the Tico Times, the president of Costa Rica seemingly shut down the proposed legislation that would’ve permitted medical marijuana and legalized industrial hemp production. President Alvarado vetoed the plan despite progress in 2021 when Congress approved a bill that would allow the trade and cultivation of medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Though there’s still hope, President Alvarado expressed his disproval of specific provisions in the bill that he wants to be revised.

President Alvarado said that he does support the introduction of a medical marijuana program in the state. However, aspects of the bill about personal consumption and growing at home that he found problematic. Alvarado said the “technical criteria” of those critical factors in the legislation need modification before signing off on the bill. He believes that those provisions currently “undermine” the objectives of legalization and pose potential threats to public health and safety. It might still be challenging to get a pound of weed in a bag under Alvarado’s vision for a medical cannabis program.

There are even more complicated factors at play in legalizing medical cannabis. Alvarado said that cannabis legalization could violate drug control treaties that Costa Rica is a part of, such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. However, provisions in Bill No. 21388, the medical cannabis and hemp law, state that Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court has already determined that passing the bill wouldn’t create any international conflict regarding drug control treaties.

Before Alvarado’s vetoed a section of the bill, the International Narcotics Control Board asked for additional information on the legislation. They issued a reminder to the government that they are responsible for solely regulating medical marijuana. 

“I want to say categorically that I support medical cannabis,” said Alvarado in response to his decision. “This is to alleviate people with various diseases, and I even have close and very dear people who need it. And I also support industrial hemp, because it will help agricultural production and economic revival. Let’s make this very clear: I agree with all these objectives and I want to be able to sign this law.” 

The legislature is currently in recess until February 7th. Lawmakers won’t address this issue until after the Feb. 6th election, “which one might think is not a coincidence,” the Times writes. Additionally, the proposal itself is supposed to return for another vote back in Congress, which, unfortunately, is dominated by the opposition. As Alvarado asked for the bill to be “modified” to address his concerns, he said his administration would create a “counterproposal,” per Harris Bricken.

When Congress passed the legislation, Alvarado already expressed that he opposed the bill back in October. This week, the Bishops of Costa Rica spoke of their disproval for the bill, echoing a similar sentiment as Alvarado. They asked authorities to reconsider appropriately assessing the pros and cons of legalization, specifically regarding public health.

The Costa Rica Bishops’ Conference said there’s no evidence showing that cannabis and hemp crops would promote “the distribution of wealth in rural communities,” nor are there any incentives that would work in favor of smallholders who change their cultivation. Additionally, they said that there’s a higher chance that illegal grow ops would be hard to police since they’re similar to hemp cultivation. That would be able to potentially attract more criminal activity and fuel criminal organizations’ grip on the cannabis industry.

Alvarado’s term ends in May, but he insists that he remains optimistic about the future of cannabis legalization in Costa Rica. He told Reuters that he has faith that lawmakers will change cannabis laws for the citizens. “I trust that they will be accepted, and the law will be in force soon,” he said.

Alvarado’s optimism towards establishing a medical cannabis program in Costa Rica will likely increase interest from foreign investors, specifically businesses in countries that have already established a legal market. As we’ve seen in Canada and the United States, companies have found ways to establish themselves in international markets. Given the country’s success with tech and medical device manufacturing, a medical cannabis program may certainly benefit Costa Rica’s economy in the long run.

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