Vertical Costa Rica becomes the first company to seek medical certification in Costa Rica
Around the world this month, people seeking unpenalized use and growth of cannabis for personal use marched for their rights. From Vancouver to Cardiff and Costa Rica, advocates marched for further deregulation, for recreational use, and for the opportunity to purchase cannabis free from prosecution.
More than anything, the march is a symbol of the slow pace of cannabis deregulations across the world. For Costa Rica, those regulations are beginning to speed up.
While Costa Ricans are permitted to grow cannabis for personal use, medical grade cannabis is not available. The bill that would allow medical grade industrial cannabis cultivation and processing is moving at a snail’s pace through the government.
This month marchers and supporters can begin to rejoice. In the next few months, as early as June, the country’s Ministry of Health could approve its first medical cannabis application from Costa Rican company, Vertical Costa Rica. Once approved, Vertical CR’s CBD products will be available in pharmacies and supermarkets across the country.
Status of medical cannabis in Costa Rica
In March of this year, PIN, a fringe party in Costa Rica, introduced a bill to clarify and speed up the medical marijuana deregulation process. Their bill follows other countries in proposing to legalize and regulate only the non-psychoactive components of the plant in oil form: CBD.
As it is pending, medical cannabis sales remain illegal.
In a health alert bulletin on the Ministry’s website they report, “The Ministry of Health is alerting the population in general about the sales of cannabis oil publicized by various web pages and social media sites, which are not registered by the Ministry of Health.”
At this time, the Ministry “has not registered any cannabis oil for medical use.” The report continues to warn citizens away from sellers of the so-called medicinal cannabis oil, highlighting that there is no guarantee of safety for the substances, which have not passed through government testing.
The Costa Rica Institute on Drugs echoed these assertions reminding citizens amid the protest that until the legislation is officially approved, individuals who engage in the marijuana market could serve lengthy jail sentences, to the chagrin of protestors who insist that pain doesn’t wait.
Without the legislative framework already in place, the Ministry is using Vertical CR as a test case.
Approvals still pending
At the start of 2019, Vertical CR, began the approval process with the Ministry of Health to classify their CBD oil-based products as medical marijuana in Costa Rica.
Vertical CR’s impetus, “[arose] from the need for a regulated industry of medical cannabis in Costa Rica.” The company, headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, also works in the United States and sells a variety of CBD products for humans and pets.
Their website displays products available to buy, but customers must contact the company before purchasing.
La Republica, a Spanish language news site, reported that Vertical CR might have surprised the Ministry of Health by being the first to apply for certification to market and sell medical cannabis. However, from a 2015 announcement designed to clarify cannabis’s national status, the Ministry indicated that “there is actually no prohibition on the registration and commercialization of medicines, foods, or cosmetics made with cannabis.”
It’s not uncommon for companies to spend months working with Latin American governments on the registration and licensing processes. These governments have established a focus on safety and regulation as a precedent, and Costa Rica is following suit.
Vertical CR’s registration paperwork is currently pending additional information from the company.
“The application review process was stalled due to inconsistencies in both a legal and technical point of view,” the Ministry commented regarding the next steps.
Murray’s response elaborated the legal and technical difficulties of the process, specifically highlighting the lack of regulation identifying what the Costa Rican government is looking for in the chemical compounds.
“We based our request on the list of requirements of the Ministry when it comes to organic products, but they asked for additional data. We had to do testing and analysis in the United States, which is expensive,” suggesting that Costa Rica’s stringent regulations on industrial commercialization add additional barriers to the registration process.
The company has until June to submit additional data. They’ve indicated that they will ship the product from California.
If their application is denied, it will be a blow for cannabis advocates and other firms seeking to enter the Costa Rican market. If denied, Vertical CR will likely have to wait until the official deregulation is approved and reapply.
The Costa Rican government indicated that they want to provide cannabis medication to those in need. Potential patients are frustrated by the pace of the process, but rushing the process could ultimately do more harm than good.