Costa Rica has finally done it! On Wednesday of this week, the medical marijuana bill that was passed the day before was signed by the country’s President, Carlos Alvarado. The bill has been in limbo since Alvarado vetoed it earlier this year, arguing that limits needed to be placed on individual cultivation and consumption. Lawmakers sent it back to him with the requested changes this week.
Supporters praise the legislation, saying that it will provide a much-needed boost to the country’s agricultural sector, not to mention create jobs.
Alvarado has finally conceded that reform is inevitable in the waning days of his administration. The two candidates who hope to replace him, José Maria Figueres and Rodrigo Chavez, do not seem to share his reservations. Both are publicly in favor of recreational reform. They face off against each other next month in a runoff election. As a result, further progress appears imminent.
Given what is going on in the region, there is no real surprise here. Neighboring countries such as Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Paraguay, and Peru have all moved forward on the same path even if their transition to recreational reform may not happen as quickly or smoothly. Ecuador just moved forward this week. Brazil is now teetering on the edge.
Only Uruguay however, of all the countries in the region, has implemented full recreational reform — indeed becoming the first country in the world to do so — although Mexico is now close to becoming the second country in the region to follow suit. Given the statements of the men who are now vying for the country’s top political spot, however, it may be that Costa Rica becomes the second (or third) country in Central or South America to fully legalize the plant, as well as its production and consumption.
Why Costa Rica’s Recreational Market Is So Appealing
Before this week, cannabis was essentially decriminalized here. Personal consumption did not carry any criminal penalties. Indeed there has been a long history, tradition, and culture of use (no matter how much this was misunderstood or mischaracterized). This was upheld by a court decision in 2016. Because the old law carried no limits for cultivation or possession, this appears to be why the issue of limits was such a hot political topic for an outgoing president.
The current push towards legalization got underway in 2019. Currently there is only one company in the country which has been granted permission to study the plant and has been growing 12 cultivars at two different locations.
However, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that Costa Rica’s domestic industry in the offing is going to be a boon to the country — and far from exports. There is a strong medical tourist and expat sector that stands to get an almost immediate boost from the current legislation. The country has for the past several decades been one of the tropical locations for aging American and Canadian Boomers who have relocated, in part because of the far cheaper standard of living, the high quality of existing healthcare, and of course, the weather and jaw-dropping scenery.
Beyond the more or less permanent snowbirds, Costa Rica received, pre-COVID, about 1.7 million tourists a year, mostly from North America. About 80% of tourists come for ecological tourism. Earnings from this sector of the economy amount to over $1.7 billion — or did. It is also the most important source of foreign currency. Until COVID at least, it had also grown, on average, just over 7% a year.
This new announcement will definitely be welcome not only by those who wish to create temptations for tourists, but by tourists as well. The intersection of the two is bound to be lucrative and highly popular.
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Costa Rica legalizes medical use and sets out the first framework for the entire industry, but recreational cannabis remains prohibited (at least for now).
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