Monday 25 September 2023

Marijuana legalization loses a battle, but not the war

Government hopes to have enough votes from legislators to approve law despite negative report from the Environment Commission

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QCOSTARICA — The fight to make marijuana use legal in Costa Rica is far from over and is now moving towards a new battle.

It is estimated that the cannabis market in Costa Rica is worth more than US$120 million dollars annually.

On Tuesday, supporters in favor of cannabis received bad news from Congress when it was confirmed that the majority of legislators of the Comisión de Ambiente (Environment Commission) recommended that the initiative which would validate the sale, industrialization, and consumption of marijuana in Costa Rica, be scrapped.

However, the victory of the conservative bloc – made up of the Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN) and Nueva República  (PNR)- would be inconsequential if one considers that there is a tendency in plenary to revive the project and allow private companies and the government to enter a market of more than US$120 million a year.

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In principle, this block of legislators, which includes members of the Partido Progreso Social Democrático (PPSD) – the Government party,  Frente Amplio (FA), and Partido Liberal Progresista (PLP), plus some legislators from Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC) and PLN, could decriminalize the plant on national soil.

“We are calculating about 31 votes in favor of the project in plenary, so we can say that we are tight, but with the necessary support to approve it (…) At this time, only the PLN and the PUSC do not have a faction line on this issue”, expressed Manuel Morales, official legislator of the (PPS).

The proposal promoted by Morales implies that the same prohibition rules that are in force for tobacco in public places are applied, at the same time that self-cultivation would not be allowed.

On the other hand, Costa Rica will no longer be promoted abroad as a vacation destination for smoking cannabis. Finally, the bill removes the label for recreational cannabis and to be “for adult use.”

For the government, eliminating the prohibition on the commercialization and industrialization of cannabis is essential to deal a strong blow to the drug gangs.

Likewise, the money that is collected through taxes will be used to treat addiction cases and fight harder drugs such as cocaine and crack.

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“We have argued that with this plan it would be possible to regulate the market; that is to say, now the narco groups dominate the sale of marijuana, they are penetrating the neighborhoods and contaminating our youth, so if we legalize, we have control and automatically the gangs that sell this drug would be out of the market,” said Pilar Cisneros, leader of the PPSD legislative faction.

For Cisneros, the support that this initiative receives will depend on a direct negotiation with the legislators and not with the factions, since in the PLN and the PUSC there is no fixed line, so there is room to present “arguments” and ” eliminate myths”.

“The (PUSC) faction does not yet have a position on recreational cannabis. We are waiting to see what will come out of the commission to decide if we take a faction position or, rather, leave it free. At the moment we are focused on the gray list and the Marchamo. When the time comes, we will see what will happen with that project. The government has the right to support the projects it considers important, whether or not they are viable,” said Alejandro Pacheco, head of the PUSC faction

Meanwhile, Óscar Izquierdo, head of the PLN faction, indicated that no one in the Environment Commission could conclusively show him that this initiative will be positive for the country and that is why he is against it.

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However, he clarified that the party has not made a decision.

“There is no established faction line. I have listened to the positions of the OIJ (Judicial Police) and I have convinced myself that there is no gain and, on the contrary, it generates more affectations”, concluded Izquierdo.

“It cannot be a good public policy to legalize a drug at a time when the country lives in insecurity, where most homicide cases have to do with drug trafficking and organized crime. It is not good at any time, much less right now,” said Fabricio Alvarado, head of the Nueva República faction.


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