Marijuana, sort of legal in Costa Rica

    Costa Rican legislation leaves an open door for personal use and consumption

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    Juan is an average man living his mid 20’s, he’s got no stable job and likes smoking pot. On the other hand, there’s José, he’s 30 and uses medicinal cannabis for his anxiety treatment. The difference between these two is the final use of marijuana. Both persons represent the two arguments in favor and against this drug’s use. Prohibition or not, everyone has a take on this conversation.

    Prohibition talks remind us about the 1920’s in the US, that go back to 100 years of alcohol consumption. At that time, people thought differently and the culture stood on other values. This time around, almost a century later, the dichotomy is still the same. In Costa Rica, the conversation swayed towards non-supporters of marijuana use. Yet the government plans on making laws about the medicinal use of cannabis.

    In the Central American country, marijuana appears as the main drug used by teenagers. A study made by the Adolescent Clinic of the National Hospital for Children shows an increase in drug use. In 91, only 1% of surveyed teenagers admitted illegal drug use. That number rose up to 15% in recent studies.

    Science says nay against marijuana

    According to scientific studies, marijuana use can have negative effects on the brain structure. Recent discoveries say that these effects appear on prolonged consumers. Additionally, those consumers had MRI tests that indicated microstructural brain abnormalities. That brain damage affects neural connections and neurons themselves. In the long run, it may develop psychosis, depression, and anxiety, along with cognitive deficits.

    Why do teenagers smoke pot anyways? Cannabis-related studies say that the drug affects the accumbens nucleus – brain structure – and generates dopamine. In other words, when a person’s high, he creates more dopamine than normal, reinforcing that conduct. After that, the body and mind seek to repeat enjoyable experiences, thus, the need to smoke again.

    This effect happens when a person uses drugs repeatedly. When the accumbens and amygdala – brain structure related to memory – are affected by drug abuse, they’re potentially in danger of cognitive and conduct disorders.

    Through documented tracing of 20 years time, prolonged marijuana users showed interesting results. Against a control group of non-users, they demonstrated a diminish in cognitive capacities. In the same way, they showed less attention and a decrease in their IQ. People that started smoking in their adolescence got the worst scores.

    Alternative medicine says yay to marijuana

    Cannabis is the new black in alternative medicine, mostly because it’s illegal. But even so, it’s proven effective against migraines, about 300,000 cases in California treated with medicinal marijuana. The American Cancer Society says it delays lung, breast and brain cancer considerably.

    Marijuana also lessens chronic disease symptoms, such as Crohn syndrome because it’s useful against nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. It prevents Alzheimer, treats glaucoma, reduces PTSD symptoms, it helps against Lyme’s disease. It can even help HIV patients by relieving pain and nausea. When used under controlled conditions, cannabis aids people in a number of ways.

    Recently, some US states marijuana use for medicinal purposes is legal. Though the DEA says it’s still illegal under federal law, they haven’t  taken any aggressive actions against users. Things change in America with time, so why shouldn’t they change over at the rapidly growing Costa Rica?

    The debate lies in the Congress’ hands

    Marijuana use laws in Costa Rica can’t decide things in a definite way yet. Local lawyers say that it’s ok to cultivate cannabis in their backyard, as long as people don’t sell it. The police legally can either confiscate or destroy crops, according to local health laws.

    “If you only sow the plant, it’s not against the law”, says José Miguel Villalobos. He adds that in order to condemn someone for drug possession, they need proof of the commercial purposes. “I know there are people that think that’s illegal, but it’s not”, he concludes.

    In the same way, criminal lawyer Federico Campos dismisses personal marijuana use. “As long as they don’t have a trailer full of drugs, there’s not enough proof of commercial purpose”. He also says that if there are doubts about the drug’s purpose, its end is probably personal use.

    People like Ernesto Cortés of the International Drug Policy Consortium say that these laws need discussion. Currently, local policies on drugs criminalize and persecute people that use drugs, pushing them to black markets and risking themselves to harm. For Cortés is time for an open debate on this regard, where public and academic institutions must participate.

    The next time you hear about marijuana use, take into account that like alcohol, it’s all about control. But not government control, but inner control in each one of us. We can all enjoy life’s pleasures in a responsible way, finding a middle point that gives balance. There’s a space for everyone in the world, and different doesn’t mean bad, it just opens up new possibilities for evolution.

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