This has been a monumental year for cannabis in the country of Costa Rica. On March 2, medical cannabis legalization became a reality after a two-year debate within its parliamentary system. This made Costa Rica the 11th Latin American country to enact cannabis legislation.
As the Central American nation waits for its government to release the framework of this brand new sector, President Rodrigo Chavez has also come out in favor of recreational legalization.
“We have prepared the regulation of industrial hemp for medicinal use, and we will promote the bill for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use,” said the president in his speech.
Costa Rican attitudes are clearly evolving on this issue and the perfect person to discuss this with is William Argüello, president of the Hemp and Cannabis Council of Costa Rica. Find out more about what this organization does, the state of cannabis in Costa Rica, and where the Latin American market is heading in this Q&A interview.
How did you get into the cannabis space?
I am a financial advisor, I worked in a private enterprise in transnationals. When the pandemic began in Costa Rica, we had three restaurants that we had to close for four months by government decree to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. This forced me to look for other directions.
The news of a lawyer who planted cannabis on the roof of his apartment caught my attention. I communicated with some of the referents who opined on the subject and that was how I started in this wonderful world of cannabis and industrial hemp.
A month later, we were 12 people talking about making a non-profit society, and they proposed my name to be the president. We moved forward with the procedures and it took us 15 months to register it legally.
What is the state of the cannabis and hemp industries in Costa Rica?
On January 13, the Costa Rica Congress approved the medical cannabis and industrial hemp project, which was vetoed by [former] President Alvarado on January 27 2022, mainly for the article related to domestic cultivation.
The signing of this law shows the confidence in the capacity for dialogue of all the actors involved. [Because of] political will, these solutions were taken in an expeditious manner for the benefit of the people who need these medicines.
On the first of May, there was a change of government. This presented new meetings with the new members of the incoming cabinet, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Interior, Anti-Drug Office, and Ministry of the Presidency.
On August 16, the first 100 days of the new president’s government were fulfilled. In his accountability speech, he announced that the regulation of medical cannabis and industrial hemp is ready to be signed. He also surprised everyone with the news of promoting a new bill for recreational cannabis. We really did not expect the last announcement.
What does the association do to further the movement?
The primary purpose of the Costa Rican Hemp Association was to support and promote the approval of the law on medical cannabis and industrial hemp.
We began to support and advise the assistants of the deputies, meetings with the legislator, Zoila Rosa, promoter of the project in the legislative plenary. It was an arduous task that people understood marijuana and hemp are the same plant with different components, and not that they were separate plants.
We also started meeting with participants from different sectors who were interested in the [medical] bill, but who did not have adequate and timely cannabis information.
How do other markets in Latin America compare with Costa Rica?
If we compare Costa Rica with Latin American markets we are at a disadvantage because we have not yet begun to plant cannabis. We do not have large tracts of land, the pandemic and external factors such as the increase in the price of oil, and the war in Ukraine have hit the national economy. Farmers and tourism are the most affected.
To be able to venture into such a competitive market and with new participants every day, we have nothing left but to rely on 200 years of independent life, a country that exchanges weapons for books, and abolishes the army. A country surrounded by two oceans, mountains, and volcanoes.
Where do you see the Costa Rican market heading in the next few years?
The pandemic taught us that the only way to defeat it was all together. I take care of myself, you take care of yourself.
The cannabis business for Costa Rica is the same, I take care of myself, you take care of yourself, and together we will be able to venture into this competitive and innovative market relying on foreign investment and smart commercial alliances.
What advice do you have for newcomers to this space?
For the countries that are venturing into this market, I recommend looking for your strengths and weaknesses so that you can make strategies that allow you to compete with the big ones.
Look for niche markets, look for added value to products, not always the product that has the highest value is the most profitable. Cannabis can give you 25,000 business opportunities, look for the one that best suits you.
To learn more about William Argüello, you can visit him at on his LinkedIn page.