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Costa Rica Medical Cannabis, And A Bridge For Recreational

medical cannabis costa rica
Written by Sarah Friedman

Latin America is a pretty green place, and a recent update now includes Costa Rica among the legal medical cannabis countries. What’s next for Costa Rica? And is a recreational legalization on the way?

Costa Rica is the next country to get greener with a medical cannabis legalization. Looks like with a new pro-weed president, a recreational bill could be on its way too. We cover news in the expanding cannabis and psychedelics fields, with this wholly-independent publication. Keep up with the details by subscribing to the THC Weekly Newsletter, and alongside your news updates, you can take advantage of some pretty sweet deals on vapes, edibles, and other smoking paraphernalia. We also have offers on a wide selection of cannabinoid products including HHC-O, Delta-8, Delta-9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP, and HHC. You’ve got a myriad of cannabis products to choose from, and every consumer should purchase products they are comfortable with using.

Costa Rican cannabis laws prior to legalization

Prior to recent changes, Costa Rica, a country of five million that’s located in Central America, was a completely cannabis illegal country, although not a non-accepting country. Cannabis could not be used for medical or recreational purposes, however, no criminal penalties have ever been attached to personal consumption, making for a bit of a use loophole. Selling cannabis was (and is) a criminal offense.

Costa Rican law isn’t that specific when it comes to weed, and can be interpreted differently. According to Narcotics Law No. 8204, its illegal to produce and sell cannabis, and its illegal to possess more than one small dose. However, the law doesn’t specify what a ‘small dose’ is, or if a plant can be grown to obtain that small dose.

The law indicates that personal consumption in private could be okay, but this is not for sure. Law enforcement also has no protocol for dealing with ‘small dose’ users, and generally speaking, if the amount is under about eight grams, will simply confiscate the weed. Large amounts can garner a criminal arrest. Overall, cannabis is widely used in Costa Rica, despite some lingering taboos.

cannabis law

In terms of how far reaching Costa Rica’s research of cannabis goes, as of August 2021, only one entity was granted a research permission to study cannabis viability. The company ROCO Plants SA was allowed to grow cultivars for selected viability testing.

Costa Rica legalizes medical cannabis

On March 1st, 2022, Congress in Costa Rica passed a medical cannabis legalization bill. The bill opens the country for medical cannabis use, as well as industrial hemp production. None of this has any bearing on recreational cannabis, which remains illegal. Then-president Carlos Alvarado signed the bill on March 2nd, officially making it law.

This bill follows another which was vetoed by Alvarado in January on the grounds that there were no limits on personal cultivation and consumption. He stated concerns that allowing the home cultivation of high-THC plants could create a regulatory nightmare. He thought home cultivation would result in wide-spread illicit drug use, and cover operations for illegal producers.

This was dismissed roundly by Zoila Rosa Volio Pacheco, the congresswoman behind the bill, who worked to assure those in fear, that this bill wouldn’t kick off a country-wide illicit drug boom. Her point in backed up by research which shows countries that adopt harm reduction policies, are better at preventing drug abuse.

Though Alvarado repeatedly said he was in favor of a well-regulated industry, he vetoed all bills until this point. His vetoes brought on blow-back in the form of medical patients telling public stories in order to sway opinion. It might have worked. The new bill was backed by Alvarado, making for easy passage in the end. In fact, Alvarado said the new law is “of great benefit to Costa Rica”, and that “it will help agricultural production and economic recovery.” This bill comes nearly three years after debate started on the issue.

What the bill allows

The bill – Expediente 21.388 (Law on Cannabis for Medicinal and Therapeutic use and on Hemp for Food and Industrial Uses)– doesn’t mention whether registered medical marijuana patients from other places will be able to access cannabis medicines in Costa Rica. It does, however, give plenty of information for the upcoming program. Here are a few bullet points from the new medical cannabis law in Costa Rica, which makes cultivation, harvesting, processing, storage, and transport of medical cannabis and hemp, legal:

Costa Rica medical cannabis

Medical cannabis regulation

  • The Minister of Health is the regulating body for the medical cannabis industry.
  • Permits are required to access medical marijuana services, as well as a prescription from a doctor.
  • Medicinal cannabis must undergo lab testing.
  • The country will use tracking systems to track products from cultivation to sale.

Cultivation regulation

  • Registration is required to cultivate cannabis, and prospective cultivators must register with the appropriate bodies. This does not cover home cultivation.
  • Cultivators are subject to routine inspections by the ICD – Costa Rica Drug Institute. 
  • Cultivating cannabis without the proper licensing can result in 6-12 years in prison.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock will collect taxes.

Hemp regulation

  • The Minister of Agriculture is the regulating body for the hemp industry.
  • Hemp is legal for all food and industrial uses.
  • All products must test under 1% THC.

Licensing and oversight

  • All licensing fees will be proportional to the scope of the business.
  • Research permits come through the Ministry of Health, with each research project subject to its own stipulations.
  • Each citizen is entitled to no more than one license for cultivation and one license for business.
  • Licenses are valid for up to six years, and can be renewed.
  • The Ministry of Health will reinvest tax money into national agencies, law enforcement, and compliance.

Is recreational coming?

A recreational cannabis bill has been in Costa Rica’s legislature since April of last year. Alvarado wasn’t the president to pass that kind of bill, but Alvarado is now out of office. In Costa Rica, a president can’t serve two consecutive four-year terms, which might be why Alvarado changed tack to sign off on the bill in his last days in office.

His successor Rodrigo Chaves of the Social Democratic Progress Party, is pro-cannabis, and has made statements about wanting to legalize recreational use. Chaves was voted in during the April 3rd runoff elections in Costa Rica, after a primary vote on February 6th didn’t turn up any candidates who could get 40% of the vote.

medical cannabis bill

In April 2021, the Citizen’s Action Party, a parliamentary caucus, offered legislation to legalize the cultivation, production, sale, and use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives for recreational use. This was stymied by conservatives, and never made it through. Now, with a new president in favor of such actions, the next bill like this to come up, has a much better chance of passing.

In February of this year while campaigning, Chavez stated after meetings with cooperatives dedicated to medical cannabis and hemp production, “I see no reason to prohibit Costa Ricans from taking advantage of the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana, both for businesses and for the State.”

He went on, “Hemp has many uses in a lot of things and banning it is not an option.” And that, “Regarding recreational cannabis, if one looks at the empirical evidence of what has happened in the world with countries that have legalized it, like Uruguay, which has 136 dispensaries, I think, or the State of Colorado in the United States, the cost benefit, despite that I do not use cannabis, the cost benefit from a public policy point of view has been positive legalization.”

Chaves’s main opponent in the elections was José María Figueres of the National Liberation Party, who is also pro-cannabis. Given that the two nominees who battled it out are both pro-cannabis, it speaks volumes to what can be expected in Costa Rica at this point. Though it might not be the first thing on the docket, it sounds quite likely that Costa Rica is next in line for a recreational legalization.


The Costa Rica medical cannabis legalization puts the country in the same legalization category as fellow Latin American countries Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. As of right now, only Uruguay and Mexico have recreational policies. However, with a new pro-weed president in office, Costa Rica’s medical cannabis legalization might be just the beginning, and we might see yet another recreational allowance in that region soon enough.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.