Costa Rica is one step closer to legalizing its domestic cannabis industry. On December 1, the country’s constitutional court, known as “Sala IV,” found nothing in the legislation that was originally passed on October 21 that would prevent it from becoming law. The bill was initially approved by the Legislative Assembly with a vote of 33 votes for and 13 against.
This is a big step. Costa Rica’s law project 21.388, entitled the “Law on Cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic use and Hemp for industrial use” was first approved in late October by the legislative assembly. Rather than advancing directly to a second vote at this time, however, a group of 10 deputies sent the pending statute to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court for a legal review, mainly to stall its passage.
Just the day before the bill was initially passed, on October 20, Panama, the country’s neighbour to the south, finally legalized medical cannabis too. It is very likely that this move prompted Costa Rica’s brief sidestep.
What Happens Next in Costa Rica
Legislator Zoila Volio has already asked President Carlos Alvarado to convene the initiative to the Legislative Assembly. The Minister of the Presidency, Geannina Dinarte has already said publicly that the bill would be summoned to an “extraordinary session” for a vote now that the court ruling has been passed down.
Reform has been pending here for two years.
As of August of this year, only one company has been granted the right to study the viability of cannabis.
A Costa Rica Cannabis Tourist Trade in the Offing?
The average tourist who has spent any time in Costa Rica knows that cannabis is essentially decriminalized and easily obtainable. While the production of cannabis products remains illegal, personal possession has been effectively decriminalized. That said, the actual Narcotic Drug law of Costa Rica calls for a prison sentence of eight to 15 years for possession along with cultivation and manufacturing.
This central American country of just under five million people and bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the South, has long been a destination for those who sought a life off the beaten path as well as increasingly American retirees who are drawn both by the weather and the overall quality of life.
The country abolished its army in 1948. As of 1949, all budgeted funds that would have been allocated to the country’s defense were rerouted to providing health care services and education. Costa Rica, as a result, is known for its stable democracy and progressive social policies.
A regulated medical cannabis industry here would not only provide jobs and income for the locals, but it would also turn the country into one of the most interesting medical cannabis vacation countries in the world.
Costa Rica is bounded by both the Caribbean and Pacific. Lush rainforests cover much of the country. It is already the most popular destination in Central America, visited by people who are drawn both by the biodiversity of the environment and those on the hunt for an exotic ecotourism experience.
Add cannabis to the mix, and the results are likely to be very positive.
Indeed, the opportunities for the ecological development of the sector may get a boost from cultivation in this part of the world.
The discussion about what constitutes “sustainable” practices in this industry are an ongoing debate. There are many ways to approach this idea—from efficient grow and processing operations to labor relations.
However, when competing in a global medical market, countries must produce cannabis to a much higher, pharmaceutical standard (GMP) than most other agricultural crops are cultivated under. Such crops must be produced indoors. As a result, at least from a real estate perspective, the development of the industry in places like Central and South America might develop in highly destructive ways. See Brazil for starters.
In Costa Rica, with its liberal approach to rainforest preservation, however, this model might be given a chance to thrive, and further in a non-first world environment.
No matter the difficulties of tomorrow as the industry develops, one thing is very clear with the forward motion of Costa Rica’s legalization of cannabis. Another “green domino” has fallen.
Europeans Are Ready for Cannabis Legalization
According to a public opinion poll released earlier this month by cannabis-focused advisory firm Hanway Associates, the answer is yes.
The poll, conducted in partnership with Curaleaf, Cansativa and Ince, revealed that 55% of those surveyed support regulated adult-use sales.
While some European countries have well-established medical cannabis markets within their borders, legal cannabis frameworks remain fragmented from country to country.
Malta became the first European country to legalize adult-use cannabis in December 2021 when its parliament approved legislation that allows adults 18 and older to cultivate up to four plants and possess up to 7 grams of cannabis.
Luxembourg is also considering legislation that would allow adults 18 and older to grow up to four plants at home for personal use, and Germany’s new coalition has signaled support for adult-use cannabis legalization.
The uptick in cannabis policy reform efforts across Europe inspired Hanway Associates’ poll to gauge how Europeans feel about adult-use legalization, Charlotte Bowyer, the firm’s head of advisory, told Cannabis Business Times.
“We wanted to see what Europeans actually thought about legalization, which is why we commissioned a poll and got some metrics across the key eight European markets to have a look at what Europeans are actually thinking about it,” Bowyer said.
The poll is based on a nationally representative sample of 9,043 adults aged 18 and older across France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the UK, with the survey being conducted between Feb. 24 and March 14.
“Each country does its own polls, but each one is going to have slightly different phrasing and ask at different times of the year,” Bowyer said. “We want something to serve as a benchmark. We ask the same questions in each market and [we will] just repeat those on an annal basis. If we’ve got a good benchmark, we can actually see it evolving.”
The results, released April 7, not only found that more than half of Europeans support legal cannabis sales to adults 18 and older, but also revealed that 30% of respondents are interested in trying legal cannabis, highlighting a large—and mostly untapped—potential market.
“I think what was quite interesting when we looked at this is that across the board, you’re actually seeing Europeans in favor of cannabis legalization,” Bowyer said. “You’re definitely seeing support larger than opposition across every market.”
Italians are the most enthusiastic about legalization, according to the report, with 60% of respondents in support of legal, government-regulated sales of cannabis products to adults 18 and older.
The poll found 59% support in Portugal, 58% in Switzerland, 56% in Spain, 55% in the UK, 52% in France, 50% in Germany and 47% in the Netherlands.
Inside the Mind of a Medical Cannabis Pharmacist in Utah
In Utah, dispensaries are referred to as pharmacies, and the method of which patients must apply for and obtain cannabis medicine differs. While the state of Utah is home to over three million people, only 15 pharmacies and eight cultivators are allowed to legally operate there.
Pharmacists are essential to the structure of Utah’s medical cannabis program, as they are legally the only way that medical cannabis patients can obtain cannabis products. Beehive Farmacy’s Pharmacist in Charge, Mindy Madeo, has been a pharmacist for over 20 years, but found a new calling to enter the cannabis industry after the state of Utah legalized medical cannabis. Madeo attended the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s cannabis program, which she will soon be graduating with a Masters of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics. It’s currently the only pharmacy school in the U.S. to offer such a degree, and furthermore, Madeo is one of the only people in Utah to have earned such a distinction.
Madeo took time to chat with High Times about what sets Utah apart from other states’ medical cannabis programs, the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), and what the future holds for patients.
The Essential Pharmacist
When Madeo began her entrance into the cannabis industry, she helped one of the pharmacies, called Wholesome, open up shop. While that pharmacy was a bit more business-focused, Madeo then moved on to Beehive Farmacy where she currently works as Pharmacist in Charge. Beehive Farmacy has two locations out of the total 15 that are allowed statewide, one in Salt Lake City and another in Brigham City. “It’s been really amazing,” Madeo said of her role. “The work I do every day is really like my dream. I’ve been doing it for two years and I still say I would do it even if I wasn’t getting paid.”
Madeo explained how Utah’s medical cannabis program works for patients. Similarly to other states, patients must go to a doctor and obtain a recommendation for a cannabis card—but new patients can’t just go to a pharmacy to pick up their medicine right away. “It is required by law that every single patient that’s new to the cannabis program, has to sit down and have a consultation with the pharmacist. And that’s the unique thing. That’s the thing that no other state does,” Madeo explained. “And it’s expensive to run as a business to do that, but the results are just phenomenal.”
These consultations only take an average of 30 minutes, during which pharmacists like Madeo will ask their patient which medications they currently take. “I’ve noticed as I was doing this that it’s not just the pain pills,” she shared. “It’s stimulants, like the Adderall and Ritalin in the morning that people can come off of. It’s the sleeping pills at night. It’s the antidepressants. It’s the stomach meds. I’ve even had I’ve even had quite a few patients come off of blood pressure medications.” After identifying their patient’s needs, pharmacists recommend various cannabinoid combination products, or different cultivars or terpene profiles, to use as a treatment.
Madeo also notes the importance of teaching new patients how to control their dosage, what to do if they consumed a bit too much, and for regular consumers, how to reset tolerance or reassess their current medication. “So I think giving patients control of their pain, control of their health, where they’re able to increase or decrease or try different products is very empowering for people. And I wish more medicine would be like that.”
The LDS Church
Aside from regular curious customers, Madeo has also witnessed the shift in perspective by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and its members. “In Utah, it’s amazing because the LDS church, at first was not on board. There was a lot of controversy,” she said of the church’s initial stance on cannabis. “And then they changed some policy saying like ‘You can’t have cannabis.’ And then they changed it again and saying ‘It’s fine if it’s with a doctor.’ So currently, it’s 100% fine as long as the doctor recommends it. And I am seeing so many old people, so many people that come in [and] you can tell [that] they’re Mormon, they’re wearing CTR rings. Their minds are changing. And to me, that in itself is just an amazing thing to watch.”
Expanding Legislation in Utah
Utah initially passed its medical cannabis legislation when former Gov. Gary Hubert signed House Bill 195 into law in March 2018, which allows patients the “right to try” cannabis as a treatment if they are terminally ill. Later in November 2018, Utah voters approved Proposition 2, which created the foundation for the state’s current medical cannabis program. The state’s program launched in March 2020, and now there are an estimated 41,000 medical cannabis patients in the state, as of January 2022.
Cannabis isn’t the only medical treatment that legislators are contemplating when it comes to access. In the 2022 legislative session, Utah legislators passed House Bill 167, also called the Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force, which will review studies about psychedelic substances being used as a treatment for medical patients. Substances such as psilocybin therapy, or even the use of MDMA, are being used to treat certain medical conditions.
Ultimately, Madeo sees a bright future for the medical patients of Utah, and those who aren’t currently patients but are becoming curious about how cannabis can help. However, there are still many hurdles to overcome. “In Utah, and probably in the whole country is, right now we sit and we differentiate between medical use and recreation[al] use, right? That word ‘recreation’ is a terrible word. We should be calling it ‘adult-use.’ But we still use “rec.” To me, that’s such a judgment call, and I don’t think there’s much of a difference between the two.”
Madeo commented on the judgmental attitude of laws in Utah, from limitations on advertisements or restriction on anything that is Rastafarian inspired, such as colors or designs. “To me, they’re trying to whitewash the plant that we’ve been using forever,” she said.
But this judgement also extends to consumers as well. “We’re somehow like targeting this culture that we think we’re judging them and we’re saying, ‘You have dreadlocks, you are using concentrate … you’re using too high of a dose, so you’re a rec patient.’ That person could have anxiety, they could have cancer. Give me five minutes with someone who you say is rec and I’ll find a medical reason why they’re using it.”
Brazilian Presidential Candidates Duck and Cover on Recreational Cannabis Reform
Brazil is moving forward on medical cannabis reform. At the beginning of the month, the National Health Surveillance Agency approved two new medical products. This will bring the number of approved medical cannabis products to 18. The majority of those available are still only CBD—ten out of the total are extracts made from cannabidiol. All of them must be bought in pharmacies and drug stores.
That is the state of cannabis reform du jour in Brazil, a place where even this victory has been hard fought. Indeed, the current (right wing) leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly quashed attempts at any forward steps, despite whole cities defying him.
Enter the 2022 Brazilian Presidential elections.
Tragically, there are a lot of fence-sitters. Then again, given the current political climate, even one step forward represents progress—even of the tortoise variety.
The Political Can to be Kicked Down the Road
CNN questioned all of the pre-candidates about their stance on reform. Here are some of the broader takeaways from the seven men in the ring.
Two candidates, plus the sitting president, Bolsonaro, did not answer. However, nobody needs him to. Bolsonaro’s track record on legalization is very clear. He even publicly mocked the last legislative effort to regulate the industry.
The other four all spoke in favor of medical use—but none support recreational reform.
Will Canada Remain the Only Recreational Reform Country in The American Hemisphere?
The U.S. has sadly had a great deal of influence in both Central and South America when it comes to the topic of drug policy. This is clearly showing up in Brazil right now. This includes any and all threats to access the American banking system (which were used to slow down dispensation in places like Uruguay).
Given the struggle that is going on at the federal level in the U.S. at this point, sticking to the medical side of the equation is a safe political bet.
Brazil is not the only country facing its Prohibition past and trying to figure out the next steps forward.
The positive news, of course, is that this is a serious question at the national level—and so is full reform.
The Great Medical vs. Recreational Divide
The scenario playing out in Brazil is by now a familiar one, especially to the global industry but the issues involved in this debate have not really hit the United States so far outside of California. Namely, how far should a federal government go when beginning to legalize a recreational market?
In the U.S., the issue of states’ rights has clouded the topic in a way unseen in Europe or other countries.
There are several models so far. The first is Holland, which has allowed an illicit market to survive based on the grey exceptions in the law. Spain is similar. In both countries right now, there are attempts to formalize both markets and figure out how the two should work together (or if there should be any overlap).
Then there is Canada, which allowed patient groups and collectives to be the starting point for a commercial medical and then recreational market. Funky financing and certification issues notwithstanding, this has been the model that has also forwarded, in its own strange way, reform elsewhere. Namely being the first country outside of the Netherlands to provide Germany with product for its medical market that started in 2017.
Finally, there is Germany which is now on track to pass some kind of recreational reform by the end of 2022. The transition here is likely to be bumpy too, but for different reasons. Namely, it is highly likely that the first movers in this market will be required to have EU-GMP certification.
This will mean that the first products in the recreational market will have to have a much higher bar to cross to hit the market, even if the transition to a less stringent standard is inevitable.
Regardless, there will be plenty of fireworks and drama if the cultivation and distribution bids were anything to go by—starting with challenging the inherent unfairness of the status quo. That said, it is hard to expect anything different since the Health Minister is the go-to guy on crafting the new recreational reform legislation per the actions of the Bundestag.
Legalization is not easy anywhere.
Just ask Joe Biden.
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