Economic Development

Costa Rica’s president unlikely to sign law on hemp, medical marijuana

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Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado appears unlikely to sign a proposed bill that would legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp, but said he will release a counterproposal this week.

Almost simultaneously, the Catholic Church in Costa Rica urged the government and lawmakers to “reflect” on the bill, warning “an uncontrolled cultivation of psychoactive cannabis” will cause “serious damage to public health.”

The law, which narrowly passed the Legislative Assembly on a 29-28 vote earlier this month, covers cultivation, harvesting, processing, storage and transport of medical marijuana and hemp products.

‘Substantive issues’

Ominously, Alvarado said “there are several substantive issues” regarding the bill passed by the legislature. The president did not characterize the nature of those issues, and did not say if his counterproposal would be a partial or total veto.

After the presidential announcement, deputies from Alvarado’s own Citizens’ Action Party urged the president to abandon further review and sign the bill as is. Meanwhile, the National Liberation Party’s President, Silvia Hernández Sánchez, accused the government of throwing “smoke screens” at the bill and the issue of cannabis regulation.

“The information recently circulated by the executive branch in relation to the cannabis and hemp project openly sounds like an excuse to veto it or to present a new text, and new bill with exclusions,” Hernández said.

Checking protocols

The Costa Rican Union of Chambers and Associations of the Private Business Sector, Costa Rican Chamber of Industries, and the National Chamber of Agriculture and Agroindustry also urged the president to sign the bill, emphasizing its economic development potential.

The president said he will take into account key United Nations protocols in conducting his review, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Vienna Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

The government announced last week that the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board has requested to review the legislation. Lawmakers said they drafted the original bill to align with international drug policy.

Church meddling

Also pushing back against the bill, José Manuel Garita, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church, said the bill would risk public health and safety, and contains “inconsistencies” that should be resolved. The church also suggested the law as written would make it difficult to control illicit fields. The original bill’s authors say they took that matter into consideration in writing the law.

Supporters of the bill say cannabis can bring economic and social development to Costa Rica’s rural areas by authorizing the production, industrialization and commercialization of hemp for industrial applications and food. Medical marijuana provisions in the bill would meanwhile bring hope to patients whose suffering could be relieved by legal, prescription marijuana products, supporters have said.

The law awaiting Alvarado’s counterproposal would limit marijuana to medicinal and therapeutic use, and does not legalize adult-use (recreational) marijuana.

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