Costa Rica Kicks Off 2013 With High-Profile Marijuana Seizures
By Dialogo January 28, 2013
SAN JOSÉ — Costa Rica’s Public Security Force sent officers trudging through the forests along the country’s southern Pacific coast, cutting and burning marijuana plants in an all-out eradication effort.
In their initial three-day sweep ending Jan. 21, police collected 6,132 plants from a farm near the coastal road. Then, with aerial assistance, officials hiked five hours out into the jungle — uncovering one farm with 7,733 plants and another with 5,072 plants. The seizure brought in a total of 18,937 plants and resulted in the destruction of 1,328 square meters of cultivated crops.
“These growers substituted the more common species of cannabis for a different one more commonly found in Jamaica,” said Security Minister Mario Zamora. “Because of the potency of this drug, it would have been much more valuable on the market.”
He added that “this will keep millions of marijuana cigarettes from falling into the hands of young people and adults in our country.”
Changes in Costa Rica’s marijuana trade
Zamora said the seizure is significant not only because of its size, but also its location. Traditionally, Costa Rican marijuana has been produced in the Talamanca region on the country’s Caribbean coast, but police are increasingly finding large quantities of the drug in other regions as well.
Officials attribute this to better technology, such as hydroponics, that allow growers to produce both higher-quality and more valuable marijuana in new locations.
“People are moving operations because they need better access to water. This is bringing these operations closer to our cities where people are consuming the drug,” Zamora said. “This technology is changing the quality of the drug, the people who grow it and where it is grown.”
While police did seize a large amount of the common Sativa cannabis plant, they also confiscated significant quantities of Indica cannabis, a more powerful species whose presence marks a serious break from tradition for Costa Rican marijuana growers.
“What this means is that growers are coming in from outside the country. They are importing the seeds and growing here,” he said, noting that it also indicates — for the first time — the movement of drugs from north to south rather than the other way around.
“We need to cut this type of growing off as soon as we can because this means that these drugs are being grown for the local market, for our population,” Zamora said.
Other large marijuana confiscations
Police another successful operation, this one in the Caribbean port city of Limón. The Jan. 11-12 operation netted 584 vehicles, 194 motorcycles and 13 firearms, and led to the arrest of 1,527 people. “
The operation consisted of several roadblocks on the highway and groups of policemen moving simultaneously through strategic areas,” said Erick Calderón, the regional sub-director commander in Limón. “This allowed us to filter everything that was going in and out of the area.”
Security forces also seized a record-breaking amount of drugs at the country’s annual Palmares festival, confiscating 327 doses of marijuana along with 37 doses of crack and 33 of cocaine.
This kind of vigilance has thrust Costa Rica to the top of the region in drug confiscations.
“We have positioned ourselves in 2013 as the country with the most drug seizures,” said Celso Gamboa, Costa Rica’s vice-minister of security. “This is both in terms of marijuana seizures and the number of people arrested for drug-related activity.”
Although January isn’t not yet over, Gamboa noted that the high number of seizures in Costa Rica is in step with the country’s new, stricter drug policy.
In 2012, Costa Rica more than doubled the amount of cocaine it seized in 2011 and tripled the number from 2010. The government also saw increases in the amount of crack and other synthetic drugs confiscated. Only marijuana seizures declined, from 1.4 million plants in 2011 to just over 957,000 last year.
“We want to send a clear message,” Gamboa said. “The Costa Rican state will enforce the law as it pertains to drugs. Trafficking drugs will not be tolerated.”