Advocates were confident that the time for Costa Rica to tap the cannabis market had arrived. On Tuesday, October 19, after a debate, Congress approved a bill to legalize and regulate both hemp and medical cannabis in the country.
But a group of ten deputies sent the bill to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court for legal review, pumping the brakes on the final vote on the bill, which had been scheduled for last week in Congress.
Zoila Rosa Volio, an independent deputy and sponsor of the bill, was clearly upset about the turn of events. The bill, Volio said, has been “sent to the Constitutional Chamber even though it had no flaws in the procedure, simply for the sake of delaying it and in detriment of chronic patients, the creation of employment, investment and the country,” she wrote on Twitter after the news broke.
The bill had first passed on October 6 in the Legislative Assembly´s Environmental Committee where legislators made amendments to the proposal, including lowering the cost of licenses. Volio told Cannabis Wire that she was “optimistic and hope to have the support of my colleagues.” But that was before learning that the group of mostly evangelical and conservative lawmakers would call for a legal review, claiming that the legalization of medical cannabis affects the security and public health of the country.
Karine Niño, Deputy of the National Liberation Party, remains confident that the bill will eventually be approved, as it has come a long way in Congress since it was introduced months ago. “We have demystified the negative use attributed to cannabis, and we have amended the bill in order for it to advance in Congress,” Niño told Cannabis Wire. “I hope that lawmakers will put the country’s interests first so we can develop a new industry that generates employment and new financial resources.”
The proposal, called the “Cannabis bill for medicinal and therapeutic use of hemp for food and industrial use,” was stalled in the Legislative Assembly for more than eight months because President Carlos Alvarado, who has said he does not endorse it, did not call the bill for discussion when he had control of the legislative agenda.
What’s next? The Constitutional Chamber has one month to rule on the constitutionality of the initiative. If it is approved, the bill will return to Congress for the second and final vote.
That’s an important deadline, however, because between November and February there will be a period of extraordinary sessions in which President Alvarado will return to control the legislative agenda, and he has said he will not promote the initiative. If that is the case, Costa Rica may miss the opportunity of regulating medical cannabis.
Rodrigo Martín, a cancer patient and partner in CannaMed Life, is not confident about the bill’s chances. “I don’t think it will be approved because it has been delayed time and time again. The truth is it is not a priority for anyone,” he told Cannabis Wire.
To Volio, the bill has been controversial “for the wrong reasons,” due to “the misinformation that exists around the subject. People think that the approval of this bill will allow the recreational use of cannabis, and this is completely wrong.”
Alejandra García and Natalia Solano, co-founders of The Up Collective, a consulting group that helps entrepreneurs who seek to venture into the cannabis industry, say there is already an existing market for cannabis products in the country, but one that has lacked a regulatory framework.
“There are restaurants that offer menus with CBD,” García told Cannabis Wire. “And yet, there is no available regulation to guide public agencies on the subject.”
Solano contends that the bill will help achieve quality standards for cannabis-containing products and adequate traceability for consumers, by controlling the quality of both crops and products. “At present no one can know what is in the oil they are using. This will give them reassurance that what they are consuming is of high quality and safe.”
The bill, in its own words, would allow the “production, industrialization, commercialization, and consumption of non-psychoactive cannabis and hemp or psychoactive hemp and cannabis exclusively for medicinal and therapeutic purposes.”
If the bill passes, Costa Rica would join other Latin American nations—including Uruguay, Colombia, and Argentina—in allowing people to use, manufacture, and sell medicinal cannabis. But for now that remains an “if.”