Just over a year after legalizing hemp and medical cannabis, Costa Rica’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock Victor Carvajal signed a resolution to grant authorization to Azul Wellness S.A. to cultivate and process medical cannabis, The Tico Times reports.
It marks the first medical cannabis license granted in the Central American country.
Azul Wellness S.A. is Costa Rican owned and backed by the family of José Álvaro Jenkins, president of the Costa Rican Union of Chambers and Associations of the Private Business Sector. Azul reportedly is planning to establish an 800-square-meter production and processing facility, located in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province.
The firm also partnered with U.S. private equity firm Merida Capital Holdings, which specializes in medical cannabis. According to the Times, the collaboration is meant to help Azul cultivate two varieties of psychoactive cannabis to start, with a focus on exporting the produced material.
Jenkins himself expressed optimism about the endeavor and said he envisions eventually establishing a medical cannabis laboratory in Costa Rica. He has also publicly supported the government’s efforts to legalize recreational cannabis in the past.
While Azul received the first medical cannabis license, Carvajal has issued eight authorizations for hemp cultivation. There are still two applications for hemp cultivation and processing and one medical cannabis license under evaluation.
Costa Rica legalized hemp and medical cannabis in March 2022. President Rodrigo Chaves unveiled a draft law several months later to lay the legal foundation for the country’s medical cannabis and hemp markets, specifically looking at production and sales. The Costa Rican government controls the cannabis industry — including granting permits related to industrial hemp and medical cannabis — under regulation of the Ministry of Health and the minister of agriculture and livestock.
Around that same time, Chaves also presented a bill to the Legislative assembly to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in Costa Rica. He promised the initiative shortly after taking his role, nodding to the fact that recreational use of cannabis is a reality we cannot turn away from.
“It is no secret to anyone that marijuana is consumed in Costa Rica, more and more openly in the streets and parks. It is a reality,” Chaves said in a translation during a press conference.
He’s admitted that he personally does not agree with the consumption of cannabis, though he believes that it’s best to regulate the market so Costa Rica can reap the benefits.
“That they pay taxes, that generates formal employment; It is very clear that it is not an easy issue, many people of good faith have doubts,” he said.
As of January 2023, the government was set to present a substitute text to the recreational legalization bill after receiving feedback from different institutions, according to The Tico Times. Originally, the plan would have allowed recreational cannabis companies to operate under the Free Trade Zone regime, meaning consumers could feasibly go to clubs, coffee shops and other businesses to buy cannabis products.
A number of institutions, including The Judicial Investigation Organism (OIJ), the Medical Association, the College of Psychiatrists, the Institute of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (IAFA), the Evangelical Alliance Federation and some municipalities, shared their opposition and requested the proposal’s dismissal.
And even though a number of other institutions and businesses in the country support the proposal, citing similar benefits as Chaves like economic growth and opportunity, citizens aren’t quite on board. According to a survey conducted by the School of Statistics of the University of Costa Rica, 76.5% of Costa Ricans approve of medical cannabis, but only 35.4% support recreational legalization.
Costa Rica joins a number of other Latin American countries with legal medical cannabis, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay is the only Latin American country with legalized recreational cannabis.
Regarding hemp, Costa Rican law defines industrial hemp as the plant or part or the plant and its derivatives, with extracting to contain no more than 1% THC by dry weight. The U.S. currently defines hemp as 0.3% THC or less, though farmers have advocated to change the limit to 1% as well with the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill.