We mostly talk about cannabis use in America but cannabis has a long history all over the world as well. While cannabis is illegal in practically every country, the enforcement of cannabis use in some countries is rather lax and borderline permissive. In other places it is safe to use cannabis for medical or research purposes.
This article isn’t about weed friendly tourist destinations, so don’t think you can visit any of these places and light up in public or whip out that weed vaporizer just because they have a more tolerant attitude. This article is simply meant to give you an idea of the attitudes towards marijuana, and the way it is used, in various countries. Obviously, I’m not going to cover every single country on Earth, just the ones that have attitude towards marijuana that North American marijuana advocates might find interesting.
Cannabis in Canada
Let’s start with Canada, for alphabetical reasons but also for cultural and geographic reasons because it’s so close to America in both respects. The use of cannabis is illegal for recreational use in Canada but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize it during his campaign. Since his victory, he has done just that. A legislation calling for the legalization of cannabis has been passed by the Federal House of Commons in November 2017, with the final vote taking place in June 2018.
If it passes then the various Canadian provinces would be allowed to set their own rules regarding the use and distribution of cannabis. A 2016 poll showed that 7 out of 10 Canadians are in favor of legalization. Canada already has a legal medical cannabis industry and the companies that distribute medical marijuana are publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. An option that eludes American growers of medicinal marijuana because it is still illegal at the federal level.
Cannabis in Colombia
Colombia is of course infamous for its violent, cocaine-trafficking trade, most notably by the famous drug lord Pablo Escobar. Fortunately, it seems like those days are forever behind them and now the country is stepping toward a violence-free future of legal marijuana. Colombia is not there yet but they have decriminalized marijuana for personal use in 2012 and allowed the use of it for medicinal purposes in 2015.
However, this could cause other problems because small scale growers are being driven out in favor of larger corporations. This has had the paradoxical effect of making the legal purchase of cannabis even more expensive than when it was illegal. Despite all of this, small growers still endure (for now). And as with many places that sell legal medicinal marijuana, it’s possible to find places that sell recreational marijuana as well. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Cannabis in Denmark
Wait, Denmark? Really? Yep, Denmark is another one of those places where cannabis is illegal except for medical use. It’s also one of those places where the punishment for non-medical use is fairly light as long as only a small amount (9.9g or less) is in a person’s possession. So far, so normal, just what is it that makes Denmark so special?
That would be Freetown Christiania. It is a district consisting of about 1000 residents where the sale and use of marijuana is openly conducted—on the cheekily named Pusher Street—despite being illegal. Several raids have been conducted on the Pusher Street sellers but they always come back. How long will Freetown Christiania last? Who knows, but it’s interesting to have this kind of community in a modern European city.
Cannabis in India
Marijuana was actually legal for centuries in India until 1985 when the National Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) was passed. It was passed under pressure from the United States, which at the time was attempting a global campaign to outlaw all drugs. This had a pretty detrimental effect on India because now marijuana was considered as serious a drug as cocaine and heroin.
The result is that dealers started selling the harder drugs instead of marijuana because the risk was the same but the potential profits for the harder stuff was higher. Fortunately, the laws have eased up somewhat and, like in America, marijuana is legal or tolerated in some states of India. Until the NDPS, marijuana use was regarded as ordinary. In fact the use of bhang, an edible preparation of cannabis, is an important part of Indian culture and has been for millennia.
Cannabis in Israel
Israel is one of the world’s leaders when it comes to cannabis research and the world leader when it comes to cannabis use. In fact, the THC compound was first isolated by Israeli scientists, Raphael Mechoulam and Yechiel Gaoni in 1964. The use of medical marijuana is legal in Israel but recreational use is illegal. However, anyone caught using it recreationally only faces fines rather than jail time.
Nevertheless, cannabis research is supported by the Israeli Ministry of Health, making Israel just one of three countries, along with Canada and the Netherlands, to have government sponsored cannabis research. This makes Israel a hot spot for cannabis researchers, including many from the United States who are interested in the effects of CBD, aka, cannabidiol, the non-psychotropic compound of marijuana. With its liberal view of marijuana and its dedication to research, Israel is a positive example to the rest of the world where attitudes towards marijuana are concerned.
Cannabis in Jamaica
In Jamaica—and some other countries—marijuana is called ganja and while the country has a lax attitude towards its use, the use of ganja is not quite as widespread as stereotypes suggest. Jamaica’s reputation as one of the weed destinations of the world is partly a result of reggae music and the Rastafari religion. Weed consumption is part of the Rastafarian religion and is permitted by law, making it the first country to permit marijuana use for religious purposes.
Use by non-Rastafarians is illegal but decriminalized, meaning that users won’t face any stiff penalties if caught. Marijuana for medical and therapeutic use is legal with the latter being a very flexible term that covers all sorts of uses. Tourists with medical marijuana cards or who claim that they feel sick can buy a permit at the airport that allows them to purchase and use marijuana without recrimination. As to where you can buy it, pretty much any taxi driver, bus conductor, or hotel worker can hook you up.
Cannabis in the Netherlands
You’d probably expect the Netherlands to have a pretty lenient attitude towards marijuana and you would be right. The Opium law of the Netherlands makes a distinction between hard drugs like heroin or cocaine and soft drugs like hash and marijuana. The use of soft drugs is tolerated even though marijuana is still a controlled substance, the use of it is generally regarded as a misdemeanor.
If you’re looking for cannabis in the Netherlands, the place to go is the local coffee shop or coffeehouse. Coffee shops are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis products, including edibles, but they cannot sell hard drugs or alcohol (!). Tourists can be legally banned from entering coffee shops but, thankfully, very few districts enforce this ban.
Please remember that a coffee shop that doesn’t sell cannabis products is called a cafe. So if you go to any cafes asking for cannabis, you’ll probably get some weird looks. Instead, you should head to a coffee shop with some quality reading material and chill.
Cannabis in Spain
Spain is becoming one of the top destinations for weed tourism because of its private cannabis clubs. As the name suggests, these clubs are places where use of marijuana is legal. This is because of the Spanish law which declares that the use of cannabis in a private place is perfectly legal. There are roughly 700 of these clubs in Spain with Barcelona alone having about 400 of them.
The way they work is that people pay an annual fee to join the club where they can smoke (or vape) marijuana freely. The fee is notable because, while the use of marijuana is legally permitted, the sale of it is not. Medical marijuana is legal in Spain and cannabis clubs are where patients go to obtain their dosage. These clubs are open to people of any nationality, as long as they have a government issued ID and they live in Spain. So if you’re planning a move, there’s a certain country you might be interested in…
Cannabis in Uruguay
Last but definitely not least is Uruguay, the first country to legalize cannabis. Yes, you read that right, it’s not just medical marijuana, recreational marijuana is legal as well. The government controls the distribution, quality, and production volume of the weed within the populace. Uruguayans are allowed to grow up to 6 plants in their home while special grower’s clubs are allowed up to 99 plants. There are also licensed pharmacies that are allowed to sell cannabis.
Users are limited to 40 g of marijuana per month and it can have a maximum THC content of 15%. Users must also register with the post office so that their use of weed is tracked. Now, before you grab your passport and make a beeline to Uruguay, the marijuana there can only be sold to Uruguayan citizens, foreigners are not allowed to buy any. Before you get discouraged, Uruguayans are pretty friendly with their weed and if they offer you some, you’re free to smoke it, or better yet, vape it. Don’t worry though, the use of drugs has been decriminalized since 1974!
The Last Word on Cannabis Culture Around the World
Now you know about 9 countries where the use of weed might not be exactly legal but it won’t get you in big trouble either. Just remember to use discretion, be friendly to the locals, and respect the laws, since most of them are for locals only. You don’t want to be disrespectful and you don’t want to end up paying a hefty fine either.
Also, these countries have more attractions besides lenient marijuana laws, so be sure to check out all that they have to offer. Even if you can’t take advantage of their laws to get lit up, there’s still a whole lot for you to appreciate as a regular tourist instead of a weed tourist.