San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Candidates tell pot smokers not to hold their breath on marijuana legalization

It looks like there will be little momentum in Costa Rica from Uruguay’s historic legalization of marijuana last week.

Costa Rica’s two leading presidential candidates have said they do not support the full legalization of marijuana in Costa Rica. Proponents of medical marijuana, however, might glean some hope from the candidates’ responses.

Soon after Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana, and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina celebrated the move as a beacon for future drug policy in the region, The Tico Times reached out to the three top-polling candidates for their take on the debate.

National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Johnny Araya and Broad Front Party candidate José María Villalta are in a dead heat with the support of likely voters of 37 percent and 32 percent, respectively, according to a recent Gallup survey published in the newspaper La República. Libertarian Movement Party candidate Otto Guevara came in third with 15 percent.

During an online video chat with TV’s Channel 7, Araya said, “I’m against legalizing marijuana in Costa Rica. It seems to me that Costa Rica is not ready to take a step like that.”

Araya, however, ostensibly left the door open for medical marijuana, saying that it was another option that could be explored by the country: “Today, my position is against the legalization of marijuana in Costa Rica,” the Liberation candidate said online.

The Araya campaign acknowledged the candidate’s statement with The Tico Times over the phone but did not clarify his comments on medical marijuana. The Guevara campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time.

Villalta’s campaign called for a “broad national dialogue” about marijuana legalization and lamented that the war on drugs’ current tactics have only made organized crime more sophisticated and violent, but stopped short of expressing a firm position either way, according to a written statement signed by his press officer, Seidy Salas Víquez.

The campaign’s response to medical marijuana, however, was warmer.

“Finally, we are in favor of beginning the necessary analysis to approve the medical uses of marijuana,” the letter concluded.  

Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalizing the growth, trade and consumption of cannabis after its Senate passed a bill on Dec. 10. President José Mujica has said that he would sign the bill.

Following the bill’s passage, the Guatemalan president echoed his earlier calls to legalize the drug as an alternative to the decades-old U.S. led war on drugs.

“I think the step Uruguay took is an important one and is a valuable experience,” Pérez Molina said during a summit of the Central American Integration System, held last weekend in Panama.

“It could serve as a pilot plan for all of Latin America, and we hope it will be an experience that eventually all countries can adopt,” he added.

Marijuana is the most popular illicit drug in Costa Rica, with consumption spiking 260 percent since 2006, according to a December report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 

AFP contributed to this report.

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