Moves on marijuana in Central America

A summary by Martin Mowforth for The Violence of Development website.

Over the last few months, the development of a medicinal marijuana industry in Central America has been advancing in Belize, Panama and Costa Rica.

In Belize in July the government tabled the Misuse of Drugs Bill 2021 in the House of Representatives. The Bill would establish provisions for the licensing and registration of operators in the cannabis industry. The Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa said that: “The consumer sees this as a relief. The small farmers, the investor, the businessman, they see this as a profit. The government sees this as only practical given the circumstances that we now face where we have something that is decriminalized but you have no way of obtaining it.”

Belizeans can already use 10 grams of marijuana without penalty, but still people risk their lives bringing it in from Mexico and elsewhere. The situation creates conflict with the police and gang warfare in Belize City.

Belize’s religious community, however, is highly critical of government liberation of laws controlling drug use and growth.

In Costa Rica in the first governmental debate deputies approved the regulation of the industrial sowing of medicinal and therapeutical marijuana. Although drug trafficking in Costa Rica is illegal and can carry harsh prison sentences, personal consumption is not penalized. ‘Personal consumption’, however, is not defined in law at present.

One of the main proponents of the new law on marijuana is Zoila Rosa Volio who considers that there is a global market in marijuana worth over $5 billion and that Costa Rica could be a part of this market by growing and exporting the crop. She also considers that Costa Rica is arriving late in the market and that the crop could improve the quality of life for many people.

In Costa Rica, however, the proposal still has a long way to go before entering into law. This includes a second debate in the legislature. Additionally, the Health Ministry and President Carlos Alvarado have both expressed concerns about legalizing marijuana, and their signatures will also be needed for it to become law.

In Panama in October President Laurentino Cortizo signed into law the regulation of medicinal and therapeutical use of cannabis and its derivatives. The law was approved by the Parliament at the end of August. The law also creates a register of legitimate users and growers. It is the first Central American country to enact such a law.

Valid uses for the plant include medicine, veterinary work, scientific and research work. The cultivation of the plants and use of the seeds are also strictly controlled. President of the National Assembly or Parliament, Crispiano Adames, said that “the greatest beneficiaries will be those people who daily experience pain.”


  • Benjamin Flowers, 29.07.21, ‘Minister of Home Affairs says marijuana industry a practical move for Belize’, Breaking Belize News.
  • Alejandro Zúñiga, 20.10.21, ‘Costa Rica medical marijuana project advances’, The Tico Times.
  • Natalia Díaz Zeledón, 19.10.21, ‘Marihuana medicinal superó su primer debate con poca oposición’, Semanario Universidad.
  • El Economista, 14.10.21, ‘Panamá legaliza el uso medicinal y terapéutico del cannabis’, El Economista.