The United States has experienced a flurry of pro-pot reform since Election Day in 2020 and four states – New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and New Mexico – passed legalization legislation in just the first four months of 2021. Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized Cannabis for adult use, while 36 states (and D.C.) have approved medical marijuana programs. More than 237 million Americans now live in a state with some form of legal Cannabis.
While individual states have spearheaded the recreational and medical marijuana legalization movement, beginning with California’s landmark Prop. 215 in 1996, it is possible the federal government may soon follow suit. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced plans to introduce a measure that would legalize marijuana federally, removing it from the CSA and its insidious designation as a Schedule I narcotic.
It’s true that President Joe Biden favors decriminalization and would likely prefer to see Cannabis rescheduled rather than descheduled. However, Senator Cory Booker, who is working with Schumer on the federal legalization bill, believes that Biden would back the legislation. And with a slight Democratic majority in the legislature, there really is a chance that Cannabis is legalized in the United States this year – an unthinkable scenario just months ago.
With the U.S. on the verge of historic change, let’s see how the rest of the world is handling marijuana-law reform.
After first approving medical Cannabis more than 20 years ago, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana in October 2018 when the aptly named Cannabis Act took effect. The adult-use law legalized possession of up to 30 grams of pot. The Cannabis Act also established retail sales and rules for home cultivation. While Canada’s provinces create their own guidelines for retail (and can also opt-out of personal cultivation), online sales are legal throughout the country. Provinces also set the minimum age for consuming Cannabis, which varies from 18 to 21.
In 2018, the Supreme Court declared prohibition to be unconstitutional and tasked lawmakers with creating a legalization law. Earlier this year it appeared that Mexico would finally join the ranks of recreational Cannabis countries. However, while legalization legislation passed both chambers, the bill has stalled in the Senate, as lawmakers failed to meet the deadline set by the court. A special session could be held later this year to pass the bill but at the moment, legalization in Mexico remains up in the air. Personal possession of pot has been decriminalized in Mexico since 2009 and a medical law allowing for the use of marijuana with less than 1% of THC was passed in 2017.
The country decriminalized possession and private consumption of small amounts of Cannabis in 2009. In 2017 the government-approved CBD for medicinal use, and in 2020 President Alberto Fernández expanded the program to allow home cultivation of medical Cannabis. The new law also permits pharmacies to sell pot products (like oils and creams), which must be covered by insurance for any patient with a prescription.
Cannabis remains illegal in Brazil, and those caught with small amounts are subject to community service and conscripted education on the effects of drugs. While medical marijuana has been allowed since 2015, it is reserved for terminally ill patients. In 2019 the program was expanded to include sales through pharmacies.
Despite widespread support for, and use of, Cannabis in Chile, pot remains illegal in the South American country. Nonetheless, there have been pro-pot reforms over the years. In 2015, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet removed marijuana from a list of dangerous drugs, where it had been classified along with heroin and cocaine. The move allowed Cannabis to be sold at pharmacies. Additionally, home cultivation for personal use of recreational or medicinal marijuana has been decriminalized.
Possession of up to 20 grams of Cannabis has been decriminalized in Colombia since 2012, and in 2015 the country approved home cultivation of up to 20 plants. That same year, Colombia legalized medical Cannabis and established dispensaries. Most recently, in 2019, the Constitutional Court overturned a ban on public consumption.
Personal use amounts of Cannabis and hash are decriminalized in Ecuador and possession of up to 10 grams is essentially legal. The Ecuadorian government legalized medical marijuana in September 2019.
In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana. The following year, lawmakers approved home cultivation of up to six plants, and cultivation clubs allowed growers to work together to produce 99 pot plants a year. In 2017, Uruguay implemented its dispensary program, consisting of 16 licensed pharmacies approved for retail sales.
The Australian government legalized medical marijuana federally in November 2016, after changing the Narcotic Drugs Act to allow for the cultivation of Cannabis for medicinal purposes. However, the rules for pot patients in Australia differ depending on the jurisdiction. While parts of the country have decriminalized pot, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) became the first jurisdiction to legalize Cannabis in January 2020. While still federally illegal, the ACT law allows for the possession of up to 50 grams and home cultivation of as many as four plants per household.
Barbados legalized medical Cannabis in 2019 and also allows registered Rastafarians to legally use marijuana through the Sacramental Cannabis Bill.
In 2015, Jamaica legalized medical Cannabis and decriminalized possession of up to two ounces. Personal cultivation of up to five plants is allowed, as is the sacramental use of marijuana by Rastafarians. Jamaica faced a Cannabis shortage earlier this year due to a drought and increased demand.
The Czech Republic decriminalized possession of up to 10 grams of pot and home cultivation of up to five plants in 2010. Lawmakers approved a medical Cannabis law in 2013, which allows for patients to obtain 180 grams of marijuana per month by prescription through pharmacies.
Despite the famed Freetown Christiania neighborhood, which became famous for tolerated Cannabis sales, marijuana remains illegal in Denmark. However, the country began a four-year pilot program for medical Cannabis in 2018. The government is allowing the marijuana used in the program to be grown locally through a special permit.
A Constitutional Court ruling in 2018 made pot consumption legal as “an action protected by the right to free personality.” Unfortunately, the sale and cultivation of marijuana remain illegal in Georgia.
Germany legalized medical Cannabis in March 2017, but the program is extremely strict. Only seriously ill patients qualify for a prescription. The government licenses companies to cultivate Cannabis for the limited medical program.
While recreational Cannabis remains illegal in Ireland, the country is experimenting with medical marijuana in the form of a five-year pilot program approved by the health minister. Seriously ill patients failed by conventional treatment would qualify for “compassionate access to Cannabis for medical reasons.”
Medical marijuana was legalized in Italy in 2013. Shortly thereafter, the government announced that the Italian army would grow the Cannabis for the country’s medical pot program. In February 2021, the health ministry granted a license to a private company to grow medical Cannabis. Prescriptions are only available to qualified patients and marijuana is available through pharmacies. Recreational Cannabis is decriminalized in Italy and as of 2019, home cultivation for personal use was legalized.
Everyone’s favorite pot vacation spot; yet most don’t realize marijuana is illegal in Holland. Cannabis is tolerated by the government and sold at coffeeshops. Possession of up to five grams is decriminalized. Public consumption at coffeeshops is allowed.
In 2001, Portugal became the first country to decriminalize all illicit drugs, including Cannabis. Currently, those in possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana or five grams of hash face no criminal or civil penalties. Portugal legalized medical Cannabis in 2018, establishing sales through pharmacies. Growing marijuana remains illegal.
There is a long history of Cannabis in Israel, as many consider the country the birthplace of marijuana research. Israeli Professor Raphael Mechoulam discovered THC in 1964. Since then, Israel’s dedication to Cannabis research has made the country a global leader in the field. Israel boasts a strong medical marijuana program that began in the ‘90s. Recreational Cannabis is partially decriminalized for possession of up to 15 grams.
In April 2020, Lebanese lawmakers legalized the cultivation of marijuana for medical use. The policy change, which officials say was financially motivated, made Lebanon the first Arab country to allow Cannabis cultivation. Legislators also legalized growing industrial hemp. The U.N. considers Lebanon one of the world’s top producers of pot and its crops could be worth up to $1 billion annually.
While recreational Cannabis remains highly illegal, South Korea passed a landmark law in 2018 that made it the first country in East Asia to approve the use of medical marijuana. The program is quite strict, requiring a doctor’s recommendation as well as approval from the government to obtain medical Cannabis. And, only pot-based medicines like Sativex, Epidiolex, Marinol and Cesamet are allowed.
Thanks to a Constitutional Court ruling in 2018, personal consumption, possession or cultivation of Cannabis in private is legal in South Africa. Medical Cannabis is also legal and a doctor can prescribe pot for any condition. Prescriptions are filled at registered pharmacies.
In 2018, Zimbabwe legalized the cultivation of medical Cannabis. However, it took nearly a year for the first license to be awarded (in exchange for a $46,000 fee). While the medical program is struggling, it calls for high quality Cannabis to be mailed to qualified patients by licensed producers.