The marijuana plants found on the rooftop terrace of Mario Cerdas. Photo JOSÉ CORDERO, La Nacion
The marijuana plants found on the rooftop terrace of Mario Cerdas. Photo JOSÉ CORDERO, La Nacion

QCOSTARICA – Lawyer Mario Cerdas, 56, has been acquitted of all charges related to his er on his rooftop terrace, a few blocks from the Alajuela courthouse, visible to the street.

The judges of the Alajuela Criminal Court (Tribunal Penal de Alajuela) said they found no link to the sale of the drug. This despite police finding 170 marijuana plants during the raid of the Cerdas home.

Cerda has been arrested five times between 2014 and 2015  by the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), all for growing marijuana on the terrace of his house.

Each time the lawyer said it was for personal consumption.

Costa Rica’s major print and online newspaper, La Nacion, says it has consulted lawyers after the Alajuela Court decision and learned “if a person planting marijuana in his/her home for personal use and discovered by police, will not face criminal or economic sanctions“.

The lawyers say that article 58 of the law on narcotics punishes everything related, exclusively, to drug trafficking, but not for personal consumption.

The law that sets a prison sentence of 8 to 15 years is for anyone who “without lawful authority, distributes, trades, supply, manufacture, develop, refine, transform, extract, prepare, cultivate, produce, transport, store or sell drugs or cultivate the plants the plants from which the substances are obtained”.

The lawyers point out that the only thing authorities can do  if they find marijuana crops for personal consumption is confiscate and in some cases, destroy them as dictated in Article 137 of the General Health Law (Ley General de Salud).

lawyer José Miguel Villalobos, emphasized that  “the mere fact of planting is not a crime.”

“To convict someone of possession of drugs, it must first be proved that the person actually planted with intent to sell. (…). One has to understand that there are people who want to be a crime, but it is not,” said the lawyer.

La Nacion says other criminal lawyers it spoke to have a similar opinion to Villalobos.

On the judicial side, the head of the OIJ, Walter Espinoza, would not pass judgement on the decision of the Court, saying his police organization will be respectful of the Court and take direction from the Prosecutor’s office (Minister Publico).

Meanwhile, the Ministerio Publico is reported to be analyzing the Court decision to see if there are grounds for appeal.

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