The assumption by many is that in Costa Rica the land of Pura Vida and Tranquilo where everything is relaxed and laid back the use of Marijuana is legal. Not necessarily so. In Costa Rica the law which governs drug offenses is the Law of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Law # 8204. The law is aimed at those who “commercialize, provide, manufactures, elaborates, refines, transforms, extracts, prepares, cultivates, produces, transports or sells drugs” So clearly the cultivation or growing of Marijuana under this provision would be illegal. Now that same law does indicate that the personal consumption of illegal drugs is not a crime (Article 58) but instead is considered a Public Health issue (Art. 79). However to further confuse the issue the Costa Rican Health Care Law (Ley General de Salud) Law 5395 indicates that Marijuana is a “prohibited plant and subject to destruction” (Article 126, 127). The Court’s in Costa Rica have generally held that possession for personal use or cutlivation for personal use do not constitute a crime so long as it is not done with the intent to distribute. Bear in mind that in Costa Rica the decisions of one court are not necessarily binding on another so it would all depend on the circumstances of each case.
The debate over the uses of Marijuana in Costa Rica are currently being debated both at the legislative level and in the Courts. At the legislative level a bill presented by Congressman Marvin Atencio of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) who is a doctor of homeopathic medicine is aimed a legalizing Marijuana exclusively for medicinal uses in Costa Rica.
In the Courts we have the case of an Attorney that had 85 plants growing on the roof top of his house. The irony is that his house is located just 500 feet from the Court’s of Justice of Alajuela. He is facing 4 felony drug charges for cultivation of a prohibited substance. He is using a novel defense alleging that his cultivation is due to his “horticultural hobby” He cited an international treaty on the U.N. Convention on Narcotics which indicates that the cultivation of marijuana for purely horticultural uses shall not be criminalized. In Costa Rica international treaties adopted in the country have a superior hierarchical standing then local law and hence the reliance on that treaty. The Prosecutor is not impressed and has requested that the court authorize the preventive detention of the accused so he can be held in custody pending trial. The Costa Rican Institute Against Drugs (ICD) is against any position that opens any door to the consumption of Marijuana in Costa Rica.
In the meantime the political debate about the benefits or hazards of marijuana are just beginning in Costa Rica. The only country in Latin America to have regulated the use of marijuana has been Uruguay.