Costa Rica has seen an increase in cannabis growing operations that use more sophisticated cultivation methods, a possible result of increased demand fueled by foreign visitors looking for higher-quality marijuana.
According to a report by La Nación, in the last 13 years Costa Rican authorities have dismantled 41 laboratories where marijuana was being cultivated with hydroponics.
In contrast to that grown outdoors, hydroponic marijuana is cultivated in a controlled environment, resulting in greater yields and enhanced capability to manipulate the concentration of psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The result is a more potent strain of marijuana which Costa Rica Security Minister Gustavo Mata said has even displaced Jamaican marijuana from the local market.
This demand for better quality marijuana, and the profits on offer -- Jamaican marijuana might cost $50 per ounce whereas the hydroponic variety can fetch over $400 -- have incentivized marijuana producers in Costa Rica to create their own hydroponic laboratories, according to La Nación.
Costa Rica has previously witnessed marijuana crop expansion in the province of Limón, where indigenous populations turned to the plant as a source of revenue. Nonetheless, it appears that new hydroponic marijuana operations are in part being pioneered by foreigners. More than a third of the 91 people arrested by Costa Rican officials over the last few years for involvement with marijuana laboratories were foreigners.
In one of the most recent laboratory seizures, the two main individuals running the operation were from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Authorities found the suspects with a large marijuana laboratory growing 3,000 plants inside a luxurious residence.
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Costa Rica's popularity as a tourist destination might explain why the country is seeing an increase in the number of hydroponic laboratories. Guillermo Arraya, director of the Costa Rican Drug Institute (ICD), told La Nación that the water-based growing systems are likely to continue to expand due to high market demand. Indeed, some travel websites have even advertised the country as a good place to partake in recreational drugs, and tourists are likely a key market for this more expensive and potent form of pot.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica
Most efforts of local law enforcement are focused on stemming Costa Rica's increasingly important role as a transit nation for the regional drug trade. Under Costa Rican law, most activity involving the cultivation, production, transport, sale and trafficking of cannabis is a punishable criminal offense. However, laws dealing with marijuana possession are much more relaxed, particularly when small quantities for personal consumption are involved.