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Costa Rica is weighing a decision to join a small but growing list of countries that have recently moved to liberalize laws governing cannabis use and possession in Central America.

The country’s Health Ministry gave its opinion this week regarding a legalization plan that had been set out in a bill by lawmaker Marvin Atencio in August of 2014.

If passed, the bill would decriminalize marijuana and hemp for medical and industrial use, and would make Costa Rica the first country in Central America to allow the lawful cultivation and distribution of cannabis.

Marvin Atencio(Marvin Atencio)

When presenting his bill last summer, Atencio made arguments that would be familiar to anyone who has followed the debates about marijuana legalization that have taken place in other countries, namely that marijuana is a viable alternative to accepted therapies for diseases including cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and that a tax on cannabis products could be used to benefit other parts of society.

Atencio’s plan would place governance of medicinal cannabis with Costa Rica’s Health Ministry, which Tuesday gave a qualified thumbs-up to the proposal. A key element of the original scheme—that recipients of medical cannabis would receive state-issued identification cards—was not supported in the Health Ministry’s statement, however, which said that any approved medical marijuana user would receive a prescription as in the case of other medicines.

Atencio expressed disappointment at the ministry’s opinion on the point, saying that a card would reduce confusion for law enforcement officials and give legal protection to patients if they were found in possession of marijuana.

The Health Ministry stressed that recreational marijuana would still be illegal in Costa Rica, something a recent poll suggests is overwhelmingly supported by the country’s residents, though many of them agree that marijuana should be legally available as medicine.

Other stipulations for medical marijuana use would include a ban on smoking as a means of ingestion and a requirement that marijuana only be dispensed through pharmacies, and then strictly as a last resort once all other available means of treatment have failed.

While acknowledging that his bill still has a long way to go before it might be made law, Atencio considered the Health Ministry’s statements to be encouraging, saying:

“We’re very happy to see a positive response from the Health Ministry. This is an important bill for the country.”

costa rica legalize

Photo Credit: Nacion

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