A Guide to Cannabis
Legalization Around the World
The marijuana legalization movement is global. While countries with legal cannabis are still very much in the minority, there have been significant steps in many nations and jurisdictions towards marijuana reform in recent years – even the World Health Organization is getting in on the act.
In this guide, we’ll consider which countries have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical uses, as well as those countries where cannabis has been decriminalized. So, without further ado, an overview of cannabis laws by country that have enacted some kind of marijuana reform.
Low-level marijuana possession was decriminalized in Argentina following a 2009 Supreme Court ruling. Medical marijuana was legalized in 2016, and the following year another law was passed meaning patients registered with the Ministry of Health can access medical cannabis for free – a world first!
Medical cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2016. While recreational marijuana use is illegal nationally, the Australian Capital Territory became the first jurisdiction in the country to legalize marijuana for personal use in 2020.
Marijuana remains illegal for adult-use in Austria but possession of small amounts for personal use is decriminalized. The Austrian Parliament approved certain cannabis-derived drugs for medical and scientific purposes in 2008.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Barbados in 2019. Recreational cannabis is illegal, though registered Rastafarians are permitted to consume and cultivate marijuana as part of their spiritual practices.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Belgium by royal decree in 2015, but only in an extremely limited form for multiple sclerosis patients to use an oral spray containing THC and CBD. Personal use of small amounts of cannabis in private, including the cultivation of one plant, has been decriminalized since 2003.
Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of permitting medical uses of marijuana in 2016. The following year, Bermudan lawmakers passed legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession of up to 7 grams.
Cannabis-derived medicines have been available in Brazil for terminally ill patients and those with no other treatment options since 2015. The country decriminalized low-level possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use in 2006.
Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis in 2018. The federal government is responsible for issuing marijuana cultivation licenses, but provincial authorities establish their own policies for sales and distribution. Individuals can carry up to 30 grams in public and each household may grow up to four plants, except in Quebec and Manitoba which chose to opt out.
Cannabis-based medicine is legal and available in pharmacies in Chile. Qualifying patients can grow their own plants as well. While marijuana remains illegal for recreational use, possession and cultivation of small amounts for personal use is decriminalized.
Colombia has had a relatively generous cannabis decriminalization policy in place since 1986. A person can carry up to 22 grams of marijuana and grow up to 20 plants for personal use. In 2016, Colombian lawmakers legalized medical cannabis, including for industrial cultivation, processing and export.
Croatia legalized medical cannabis in 2015 for patients suffering from a limited list of conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis. But patients are not permitted to cultivate their own plants, which is particularly harsh in a country with ideal growing conditions for cannabis. Otherwise, marijuana possession is illegal but decriminalized for small amounts.
Czech Republic has had a legal, regulated medical cannabis market since 2013. While marijuana is technically illegal, possession of up to 10 grams or cultivation of 5 plants is decriminalized and fines are generally not enforced on users who stick to these limits.
Denmark started a 4-year pilot program for medical cannabis in 2018, using marijuana grown by Danish farmers. Danish authorities come down hard on all other uses of cannabis, except in the semi-autonomous community of Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen where marijuana is widely used and traded. The community has been subject to police drug raids in recent years though.
Marijuana was legalized for medical uses in Ecuador in 2019. While cannabis is not legal, it is decriminalized and lawmakers effectively instructed law enforcement not to take any action against persons in possession of up to 10 grams for personal use. Selling or cultivating any quantity of marijuana is not permitted.
Medical cannabis has been an option under strict conditions for Finnish patients in possession of a special license since 2006. Adult-use marijuana is illegal but possession offenses are generally handled with a fine rather than a court summons, though Finnish marijuana reform advocates are still seeking full decriminalization.
In 2018, Georgia became the third country in the world to legalize adult-use marijuana, after the nation’s highest court ruled that “consumption of marijuana is an action protected by the right to free personality.”
But it wasn’t, shall we say, full legalization. While cannabis possession and consumption is permitted, cultivation and sales remain illegal.
A very limited form of medical marijuana is legally available to seriously ill patients with a physician’s recommendation that no viable therapeutic alternative is available. Otherwise, low-level cannabis possession is illegal in Germany and you can expect to lose your driving license if you are caught with even a small amount.
Like Denmark, Ireland enacted a medical marijuana pilot program for a limited number of debilitating conditions. It started in 2019 and will run for 5 years. Cannabis possession remains a criminal offense.
Israel has permitted medical marijuana for a range of conditions since the 1990s and boasts highly-developed cannabis research and export industries. In 2019, possession of small amounts of cannabis in one’s private home was decriminalized but criminal charges for a third possession offense in public are still possible.
Medical and industrial uses of marijuana are legal but strictly controlled in Italy. Qualifying medical cannabis patients cannot grow their own medication at home. Low-level marijuana possession is decriminalized, subject to fines, but growing and selling even small amounts of cannabis could land you with jail time.
Medical cannabis was legalized in 2015 and the first dispensaries opened in 2018. Amendments to Jamaica’s drug laws that year also decriminalized marijuana possession up to 2 ounces and 5 plants for personal use. These limitations do not apply to Rastafarians who can use as much as they like.
In 2020, Lebanon became the first Arab country to legalize cannabis cultivation and processing for medical uses and export. The country is one of the world’s largest producers of illicit marijuana and it is widely consumed in private, but it remains illegal to possess.
Luxembourg is poised to become the first EU country to legalize recreational cannabis, while personal use of marijuana has been decriminalized since 2001. After a two-year medical cannabis pilot program, Luxembourg lawmakers voted to legalize marijuana for medical uses in 2018.
The small southern African country famed for the quality of its marijuana strains legalized cannabis for medical and industrial uses in 2020. While adult-use remains illegal, the plant is widely grown and exported to the illicit international market.
Following a Supreme Court ruling that Mexico’s prohibition on cannabis is unconstitutional, lawmakers have been drafting legislation to legalize recreational use and become the world’s largest legal cannabis market by population. Until such legislation is formally approved, marijuana is nonetheless de facto legal for personal use.
Purchasing and consuming marijuana from licensed “coffee shops” has long been tolerated in the Netherlands, yet cultivation and sales of the plant to these shops is technically illegal. Cannabis-derived medicines have been available on prescription since 2003.
Lawmakers in New Zealand voted in 2018 to amend the country’s drug laws and permit the use of medical cannabis for patients with terminal illnesses. Adult-use marijuana remains illegal but there will be a marijuana legalization referendum held in 2020.
Medical marijuana is legal for patients upon the recommendation of a licensed physician but notoriously difficult to access. Possession, cultivation, transport and sale of cannabis is illegal in Norway, though the parliament voted to decriminalize drug use in 2017 and this will take effect in 2020 or 2021.
Peru legalized cannabis oil for medical purposes in 2017. Possessing small amounts of marijuana is not considered an offense, but growing or selling it could result in serious jail time.
Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize possession of all drugs in 2001, but sales and cultivation of marijuana are still illegal. Legislation allowing for the dispensation of medical cannabis from pharmacies was passed in 2018.
Personal consumption and cultivation of marijuana in private was decriminalized in South Africa following a Constitutional Court ruling in 2018, but public possession as well as trading remain illegal. Exemptions are technically in place for distributing cannabis for medical uses, but there are currently no operational dispensaries.
Marijuana occupies a legal gray zone in Spain, but in general personal use and cultivation is permitted so long as it is in private, including in cannabis social clubs. A limited selection of cannabis-derived medicines have been available for quite some time, but many patients find it more convenient to grow their own.
Thailand legalized medical cannabis for patients in possession of a physician’s recommendation in 2018, but the plant’s production and sale is strictly controlled. Recreational use is illegal with hefty potential fines and prison sentences, but in practice the law is often not enforced.
Medical cannabis as prescribed by a specialist doctor was made legal in 2018, but access to the drug remains pretty limited. Marijuana is illegal for recreational use but typically low-level offenders are issued with a fine rather than a criminal prosecution.
Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalize cannabis for any use in 2013. The legal cannabis market is only open to Uruguayan residents, who are also permitted to grow up to six plants for personal consumption.