Costa Rica’s proposed hemp and medical cannabis law was passed by the Legislative Assembly on January 13, after a 29-10 vote. But what should have been a landmark accomplishment for cannabis legalization in the region has been overshadowed by President Carlos Alvarado’s refusal to sign Bill No. 21388 into law.
According to President Alvarado, there are concerns that the new law could run afoul of drug control treaties to which Costa Rica is a party, such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. In fact, on January 10 the International Narcotics Control Board requested additional information about the bill, while reminding the Costa Rican government of its obligation to strictly regulate medical cannabis.
Proponents of Bill No. 21388 point out that Costa Rica’s Sala Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has already ruled that it does not violate the drug treaties signed by Costa Rica. In the face of both legislative and judicial approval of the proposal, a veto of the hemp and medical cannabis bill would constitute a “very grave error, not just for the Executive, but also for the legitimacy of the democratic political system.”
In any case, President Alvarado has not indicated that he plans to veto the bill. Instead he asked the Legislative Assembly to “modify” the proposed law, saying on January 21 that his administration would present a “counterproposal.” This has further angered supporters of the hemp and medical cannabis bill, who insist the president must either sign or veto. The Legislative Assembly could override a veto if two-thirds of deputies vote in favor.
To be sure, this is not the first time we have seen cannabis legislation hit roadblocks in the region due to concerns over international treaty obligations. At the same time, there appears to be considerable reticence on the part of Costa Rica’s officialdom to proceed with legalization, while the expected opposition to cannabis reform from social conservatives is also present. While being a good international citizen may be partly motivating the Costa Rican government’s stance, it is possible that other political factors are at play.
We have written about Costa Rica’s proposed law before, noting the reasons why legal hemp and medical cannabis in the Central American country is an exciting prospect. Hopefully the impasse between the Legislative Assembly and the Executive can be sorted out, and a bill that has long been in the making can finally make it across the finish line.