Recreational drug use in Central America is relatively low, but Central America and Mexico represent the main avenue for smuggling drugs into the United States, especially cocaine. As a result of drug trafficking, Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest crime rate in the world.
However, Central American countries take drug possession and use seriously. Drugs are illegal throughout Central America, and all travelers are subject to local drug laws and penalties, which are often fiercely severe (as in years in a harsh, crowded prison).
Laws and penalties for drugs in Costa Rica
In addition to alcohol and tobacco, recreational drugs are illegal in Costa Rica, and drug trafficking is a growing problem in the country. However, although cannabis is illegal, police officers in Costa Rica generally do not arrest people who transport small amounts of marijuana for personal use; Beach towns tend to be the most relaxed about it. Still, use by locals is not widespread: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the annual rate of marijuana use among people in Costa Rica between the ages of 12 and 70 years is one percent (in comparison, the use in the United States is at 13.7%).
Laws and penalties for drugs in Guatemala
Drug trafficking is a massive problem in Guatemala, which borders Mexico to the north. Penalties for drug trafficking in Guatemala are severe and vary from 10 to 20 years in the country’s violent and overcrowded prisons; The penalties for simple drug use vary from 8 to 15 years. While the UNODC puts the annual rate of marijuana use among people in Guatemala at 4.8%, which is moderate, the risk is hardly worth it.
Drug Laws and Penalties in Belize
Belize has the highest rate of marijuana use in Central America; UNODC places the annual rate of use among people in Belize at 8.5%. In many tourist places in the country, the attitude towards marijuana use is relaxed, even part of the local culture. However, it is still illegal, and possession can result in heavy fines or imprisonment. For harsher drugs in large quantities, the penalties can be very severe.
Laws and penalties for drugs in Honduras
Drug trafficking, especially cocaine, is a huge problem in Honduras and is responsible for the extremely high crime and murder rate in the country. Drug use in Honduras is very low: the UNODC places the annual rate of marijuana use among people in Honduras at 0.8 percent, for example. Criminals convicted of drugs in Honduras can expect long prison terms and heavy fines.
Laws and penalties for drugs in Panama
If you are smart, you will avoid drugs at all costs in Panama. Because Panama borders Colombia, it is an important avenue for drug trafficking, and the country takes drug possession and use extremely seriously. Although marijuana use in Panama is moderate, the UNODC establishes that the annual rate of marijuana use among people in Panama is 3.6%, it is illegal, and possession of even a small amount of drugs is punishable by a minimum of one year in prison. According to the Moon travel guide, drug dealers sometimes organize gullible tourists for a drug bust, hoping to share a bribe with a corrupt police officer.
Laws and penalties for drugs in Nicaragua
Located right in the middle of Central America, Nicaragua is also in the middle of the drug smuggling route between South America and the United States. While marijuana use is moderate in Nicaragua, it is illegal, and getting caught with even a small amount can result in hefty fines and prison sentences, up to 30 years.
Laws and penalties for drugs in El Salvador
Although El Salvador is small, all ground shipments of illegal drugs from South America must pass through El Salvador or Honduras on their way to Mexico. As a result, El Salvador has huge problems with drug-related crime and violence. The penalties for drug use and possession in El Salvador are high.
Finally, it should be noted that there is no need to fear the drug traffickers in the region. Essentially, they go about their business and won’t bother you unless you stop them from doing their thing – 99% of the time, travelers are unaffected.
Edited by Marina K. Villatoro