Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court Approves Cannabis Legalization Bill

In an unusual move, the legislature in Costa Rica referred pending cannabis reform language to the country’s highest court in October. As of early December, “Sala IV” found nothing unconstitutional in the current proposal to legalize cannabis—so the ball is back in the hands of the legislature.
Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one step closer to legalizing its domestic cannabis industry. On December 1, the country’s constitutional court, known as “Sala IV,” found nothing in the legislation that was originally passed on October 21 that would prevent it from becoming law. The bill was initially approved by the Legislative Assembly with a vote of 33 votes for and 13 against.

This is a big step. Costa Rica’s law project 21.388, entitled the “Law on Cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic use and Hemp for industrial use” was first approved in late October by the legislative assembly. Rather than advancing directly to a second vote at this time, however, a group of 10 deputies sent the pending statute to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court for a legal review, mainly to stall its passage.

Just the day before the bill was initially passed, on October 20, Panama, the country’s neighbour to the south, finally legalized medical cannabis too. It is very likely that this move prompted Costa Rica’s brief sidestep.

What Happens Next in Costa Rica

Legislator Zoila Volio has already asked President Carlos Alvarado to convene the initiative to the Legislative Assembly. The Minister of the Presidency, Geannina Dinarte has already said publicly that the bill would be summoned to an “extraordinary session” for a vote now that the court ruling has been passed down.

Reform has been pending here for two years.

As of August of this year, only one company has been granted the right to study the viability of cannabis.

A Costa Rica Cannabis Tourist Trade in the Offing?

The average tourist who has spent any time in Costa Rica knows that cannabis is essentially decriminalized and easily obtainable. While the production of cannabis products remains illegal, personal possession has been effectively decriminalized. That said, the actual Narcotic Drug law of Costa Rica calls for a prison sentence of eight to 15 years for possession along with cultivation and manufacturing.

This central American country of just under five million people and bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the South, has long been a destination for those who sought a life off the beaten path as well as increasingly American retirees who are drawn both by the weather and the overall quality of life.

The country abolished its army in 1948. As of 1949, all budgeted funds that would have been allocated to the country’s defense were rerouted to providing health care services and education. Costa Rica, as a result, is known for its stable democracy and progressive social policies.

A regulated medical cannabis industry here would not only provide jobs and income for the locals, but it would also turn the country into one of the most interesting medical cannabis vacation countries in the world.

Costa Rica is bounded by both the Caribbean and Pacific. Lush rainforests cover much of the country. It is already the most popular destination in Central America, visited by people who are drawn both by the biodiversity of the environment and those on the hunt for an exotic ecotourism experience.

Add cannabis to the mix, and the results are likely to be very positive.

Indeed, the opportunities for the ecological development of the sector may get a boost from cultivation in this part of the world.

Sustainable Cannabis

The discussion about what constitutes “sustainable” practices in this industry are an ongoing debate. There are many ways to approach this idea—from efficient grow and processing operations to labor relations.

However, when competing in a global medical market, countries must produce cannabis to a much higher, pharmaceutical standard (GMP) than most other agricultural crops are cultivated under. Such crops must be produced indoors. As a result, at least from a real estate perspective, the development of the industry in places like Central and South America might develop in highly destructive ways. See Brazil for starters.

In Costa Rica, with its liberal approach to rainforest preservation, however, this model might be given a chance to thrive, and further in a non-first world environment.

No matter the difficulties of tomorrow as the industry develops, one thing is very clear with the forward motion of Costa Rica’s legalization of cannabis. Another “green domino” has fallen.

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