Is weed legal in Costa Rica?
In 2018, the Costa Rican Supreme Court decriminalized possession and cultivation personal quantities of marijuana. Selling marijuana, as well as large-scale possession and/or cultivation remain crimes punishable by imprisonment. Legalized medical marijuana is pending in the Costa Rican legislature.
[Update on May 2, 2019]
Guillermo Araya, the director of the Costa Rican Drug institute (known as ICD for its initials in Spanish) reminded those in Costa Rica that, while simple possession is not punishable, other activities are.
Specifically, Article 58, Law 8204 calls for between 8 and 15 years in jail for anyone that distributes, trades, supplies, manufactures, elaborates, refines, transforms, extracts, prepares, cultivates, produces, transports, stores or sells marijuana. Presumably, he means large-scale cultivation and manufacturing, as the Supreme Court ruling essentially decriminalized personal possession and cultivation.
[Update on September 2, 2019]
Costa Rica ranks #6 in Latin America for percentage of the population that identify as a frequent marijuana user.
[Update January 2, 2020]
There is a bill waiting to be heard by the Costa Rican National Assembly that would legalize production of hemp and cannabis for domestic medical use. [source in Spanish]
Additionally, there is an effort to legalize production for export. Proponents cite a 2017 Deloitte Canada report indicating that approximately 350 million people live in jurisdictions where cannabis legal and may be imported.
One lawmaker, Zoila Rosa Volio Pacheco stated that, “[legal marijuana production for export] would generate work for skilled and unskilled labor,” for the country that is suffering from an economic downturn.
Mario Alberto Cerdas: Costa Rican Cannabis Pioneer
Pot is technically contraband in Costa Rica, however, thanks to a courageous Costa Rican attorney named Mario Alberto Cerdas, possessing and cultivating cannabis in amounts small enough for only personal consumption is no longer a crime.
Cerdas was charged with cultivating marijuana for growing pot plants on the outdoor terrace of his home, which faced the building that houses Costa Rica’s federal law enforcement agency, the OIJ. He was charged, arrested, and spent five months in preventative detention without bail.
His case made it all the way to the third chamber of the Costa Rican Supreme Court. In January of 2016, the Court absolved Cerdas of the charge of marijuana cultivation. Then, after two years of study, the Court issued a resolution that decreed that growing cannabis for a purpose other than selling it or distributing it, is not a threat to public health. Therefore, it is not a punishable crime.
Medical Marijuana in Costa Rica
There are multiple efforts in the National Assembly, Costa Rica’s legislative body, to establish a medical marijuana program.
One effort would limit eligibility to those suffering from serious conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, MS, and HIV. Eligible conditions could be added based on future scientific studies validated by the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis and Hemp (IICBA).
Under this proposed law, medical cannabis would fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health. Cannabis would be prescribed by a doctor and distributed via pharmacies.
Costa Rica Alchemy is the country’s first medicinal cannabis association.
Is Pot Legal in Costa Rica for Foreigners?
Recreational marijuana is illegal for residents and visitors. However, there is no punishment for possession of a “small dose,” which is usually defined as about one-quarter of an ounce.
Like many of Central America’s tourist hotspots, pot is abundant. In a 2015 University of Costa Rica study, almost 20% of Costa Ricans reported that hey had tried marijuana. The same study reported that 78.1% say that marijuana is very easy to acquire.
We don’t recommend or endorse buying, selling, using, or possessing marijuana in Costa Rica. You could get arrested and end up in a Tico prison for breaking marijuana laws. Don’t do it.
There are five places that a visitor can most easily score weed, and as such, we recommend avoiding these kinds of places in order to not break the law:
At the beach
Clubs and bars
Weed on the Beach
Weed is especially easy to find in the more popular beach areas.
In the Caribbean beach towns like Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, a person can literally follow the smell of pot.
The eastern coast of Costa Rica has an Afro-Caribbean vibe. In fact, Cauhita has been called Costa Rica’s Little Jamaica. Rastafarian influence on the town is obvious.
If you can’t find weed in Puerto Viejo or Cauhita then you are stupid.
Speaking of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, one of our Costa Rica insiders, Marie Gomez, wrote a guide to these towns, outlining great places to eat, drink and enjoy fun activities.
On the Pacific side, surfers and vendors on the beach can usually give you some advice on where to go to score weed.
Weed in the Park
Not all of Costa Rica is the beach. If you find yourself landlocked, a local park is usually where nefarious pot dealers hang out. We don’t ever recommend going to a park late at night. They can be dangerous in the wee hours.
Most towns and communities are built around a church and an adjacent park. There is usually at least one person in the park that is selling.
Weed in Clubs and Bars
Dance clubs and bars are often frequented by marijuana users and people that sell it.
In beach towns, the Rastafarian-themed bars are often full of marijuana activity.
Weed in a Taxi
In the Central Valley, taxi drivers sometimes can steer you toward places that where there is (not) marijuana.
Always look for the official red taxis with yellow triangles displaying their license number.
Phrases like “420 friendly” on AirBnB indicate that the host is marijuana-friendly.
Should I Bring it With Me
Under no circumstance.
If you are caught, the best case scenario is that you are denied entry to the country and sent home. That is what happened to a professional American football player from the United States.
The worst case scenario is that you spend years in a Costa Rican prison. Have a beer instead.
Chifrijo, a popular bar food made of pork belly, beans, rice, salsa and/or chimichurri, is a local go-to to treat the munchies.