Costa Rica just took its biggest step yet toward legalizing weed.
President Rodrigo Chaves signed a proposed law this week that could legalize recreational marijuana in the Central American nation. The legalization bill was sent on Wednesday to the country’s legislative assembly where lawmakers will analyze it, along with results of similar laws in other countries, before eventually voting on passing the regulation.
It is unclear how long this process will take, but presidential support means that it has the institutional backing to potentially succeed.
“It is no secret to anyone that marijuana is consumed in Costa Rica, more and more openly in streets and parks. It is a reality,” Chaves said in a press conference after the signing, according to the Associated Press.
“What has been the consequence of the State being outside of that regulatory activity?” he asked. "That criminal groups, gangs, drug traffickers, those who do retail, have taken advantage.”
He said that he believed that the legalization of cannabis would undercut the criminal marketplace which currently controls the sale of weed in the country, and create a safer buying environment for consumers. He also stressed that the legalization of recreational cannabis would help Costa Rica through taxable revenue and new employment and business opportunities.
Chaves entered office in May 2022. One of his main campaign promises was the legalization of recreational cannabis. The previous government under former president Carlos Alvarado Quesada successfully passed medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp legislation in March 2022.
While the exact language of the proposed recreational cannabis law is not available to the public, the law will reportedly include the legalization of “social clubs” where the consumption of weed will be legal. It’s also been reported that the law will allow people to grow six plants for personal use at home. Those interested in growing more for commercial purposes would require some sort of permit.
But not everyone is pleased with Costa Rica getting closer to legalizing weed.
“We are against the legalization of recreational marijuana. It can not only be seen from an economic perspective, but from a social and security point of view,” said Fabricio Alvarado, a politician from an opposition party, according to local media. “I know of people who ended up consumed by crime or more violent drugs like crack or cocaine because the prelude was marijuana.”
If Costa Rica legalizes recreational cannabis, it would be the third country in the Americas to have successfully passed a federal law after Uruguay and Canada. But not all countries who have gotten close to passing recreational cannabis laws have been able to get their bills across the finish line and create a legal industry.
Mexico, one of the world’s largest cannabis producers, nearly passed a federal legalization bill in 2020, before seeing it stall after lawmakers couldn’t agree on the specifics of the legislation. The bill was repeatedly postponed and eventually fell into a legal purgatory, where it remains today.