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High Tide in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica has long been touted as a fantastic destination for travelers to visit and ex-patriots to relocate. This gorgeous Central American paradise boasts volcanoes, tropical rainforests,jungles, stunning beaches, local surf towns and 72 different microclimates.

The pending legalization of medical marijuana could be a new and even more spectacular reason to visit. It would make this jewel of a country that lies just nine degrees from the equator the first in Central America to do so.

Rep. Marvin Delgado Atencio first introduced the bill back in 2014, and now with almost all caucuses in the government showing support, it looks like it could become a reality on May 1st.

The bill would also create a research institute in the country as part of its Ministry of Health, designed to study cannabis as a medicine and grant licenses for growing and permits, as well as distributing legal cards for consumers.  The bill would have the Costa Rican Government charge a 7% tax on marijuana sales and is expected to generate 20 million dollars annually, a large cash crop for the nation. The country’s nationalized health care system known as ‘the Caja’ has said it supports the bill and can provide marijuana and marijuana-based medicines free of charge to those who qualify.

Interestingly, the bill does not mention recreational marijuana. Already permitted by Costa Rican law, it came about in a landmark decision back in January of this year.  When 57-year-old attorney Mario Alberto Cerdas faced 24 years in prison because of growing pot for personal consumption on his rooftop,  the three-judge panel dismissed the case, highlighting that while growing marijuana is illegal, it does not come with any prison time if it is only for personal use.

Pot is widely accepted in Costa Rica and is available in most parts of the country as long as you ask anybody but a police officer.  With the introduction of medical marijuana, an argument could be made for the positive effects of taking the substance out of the hands of the local black market and putting it into the hands of healthcare professionals.

For the many Americans and Canadians living in Costa Rica, this news will probably come as a welcome change as they have watched their home countries adopt a much more liberal approach to pot even as the laws in their new-found paradise remained stagnant despite rampant use by the population.

One such Canadian, and also a huge player in the hemp industry, is Sudbury native Derek Kesek, CEO of HempEarth Group Ltd. based in Waterloo Ontario.  Derek is involved in a number of initiatives involving hemp and marijuana, including an upcoming project to build a plane almost entirely out of hemp. He also developed a hemp-based biodiesel fuel in Costa Rica.

The reason I moved here was because it’s beautiful. I spoke here last July at a conference for hemp and cannabis and saw that both would grow well here just like bamboo grows well here,” Derek said in an interview with marijuana.com.  

Now that Derek lives in this tropical paradise, and the laws are clearly changing, he is planning on developing hemp surfboards and SUP boards for the surfing nation.  “Regardless of what some experts say, Costa Rica will be a great place to grow industrial hemp and all things cannabis.  In my personal opinion, I will be happy when recreational use is legal just like Colorado, and I can freely buy it at the store instead of from a doctor or pharmacy.”  On 4/20 this year, Derek will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the creation of the hemp plane and all things related, in the hopes of further developing the industry worldwide and in his newfound tropical home.

Photo courtesy of Anna Omelchenko

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