Costa Rica debates hemp and medicinal hashish legislation

Costa Rican lawmakers will reopen the debate on a bill (Dispatcher No. 21,388) to legalize hemp and medical cannabis. The bill was approved by the Legislative Assembly’s Environment Commission last November, but its presentation to the Assembly plenary was delayed.

The author of the bill is independent lawmaker Zoila Rosa Volio, an agronomist and lawyer who has made both economic and health arguments for legalization. In addition to ensuring Costa Ricans access to cannabis treatments, the development of a cannabis industry is seen as a potential engine for growth and increased government revenues.

Under the proposed law, hemp is defined as cannabis with a THC content of less than 1%. The draft law distinguishes between therapeutic (uso terapéutico) and medical (uso médico) products. This is interesting because the terms cannabis terapéutico and cannabis drug are sometimes used interchangeably. However, for the purposes of the bill, therapeutic use is one that does not require medical supervision or approval, while medical use requires medical supervision. Despite this distinction, the terms are used side by side throughout the bill, with the exception of Article 13.2, which only provides for the licensed artisanal manufacture of products for therapeutic purposes.

The draft law does not provide for any licensing requirements for hemp cultivation that go beyond what is necessary for general agricultural activity. For medicinal cannabis, breeders must obtain a license from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. Anyone wishing to manufacture finished products must, in turn, obtain approval from the Ministry of Health. The admission of foreign parties is not addressed in the draft law. Given the discussion surrounding the proposed law, as well as the general openness of the Costa Rican economy, this omission likely indicates an intention to allow foreign participation in the burgeoning cannabis industry.

According to the provisions of the draft law, the qualification as a medical cannabis patient is to be determined by the person’s doctors. Patients are authorized to grow their own cannabis.

The new law would introduce a 1% tax on medical cannabis (but not hemp) transactions. When the bill comes into effect, the executive has six months to issue ordinances.

Overall, the bill seems to strike a good balance between the government’s desire for budget gains from legalizing cannabis and allowing the industry to grow as it sees fit. The reduced regulatory burdens for hemp are to be welcomed as well as a sensible adjustment.

Given Costa Rica’s success in attracting investment from overseas companies, especially electronics and medical device manufacturers, there is reason to be hopeful about the prospects for its cannabis industry – provided the legislature votes for it to exist!

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