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How Canada is following a softening of cannabis laws across the world

Posted by Calum Napier on
How Canada is following a softening of cannabis laws across the world

Canada voted to legalise the recreational use of cannabis, coming good on a manifesto promise from 2015 and becoming just the second country in the world to do so.

But cannabis laws across the world are changing, with many countries decriminalising or legalising possession, sale and cultivation in recent years.

In countries where the drug is fully legal it is heavily regulated and taxed. Other countries like the Netherlands take a more tolerant approach, choosing to not prosecute rather than to legalise.


Cannabis legalisation for medical and recreational uses is increasing across the country, albeit at a state level. It is still illegal under federal law.

California was the first state to legalise cannabis for medical use in 1996, and Washington and Colorado hold the joint title for being the first states to fully legalise the drug for sale to adults in 2012.

Currently there are nine states, including Washington DC, where it is legal for adult use. 29 states allow the drug to be sold for medical use and as taxation of the industry brings extra spending money, more states are expected to follow suit in legalising or at least decriminalising the drug.


In 2014 Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalise the use drug for recreational purposes. The country’s already liberal laws permitting consumption were relaxed to allow citizens to possess the drug and cultivate plants at home or in growing clubs.

The legislation was voted through by the senate in 2013 and it was enacted in 2014. Following concerns about the practicalities of the new legislation, regulated sale of the drug was finally allowed in 2017.

Citizens can now register with the government to buy the drug from state licensed pharmacies.


Famous for its ‘tolerance’ of the drug, Holland has never actually legalised cannabis, but rather allows police to overlook its sale, cultivation and use in coffee shops.

Police will also not prosecute people for possessing up to 5g of the drug or cultivating up to five plants, despite possession and cultivation still being illegal.

In 2013 legislation was passed which essentially turned coffee shops into clubs with a maximum of 2,000 members in order to counter drug tourism. However in 2014 it was mainly abandoned as a policy and municipalities now decide on whether foreigners can enter coffee shops.


Jamaica is the only country in the world to legalise cannabis for religious purposes. Marijuana is a key part of rastafarian culture and it plays an important role in religious ceremonies. But it was only in 2015 that the Caribbean island decriminalised possession of the drug with a discretionary fine of $5 for up to 56 grams per person.

Cultivation of the plants was allowed but limited to a maximum of five. The new legislation allowed the use of the drug for the intentionally ambiguous ‘therapeutic’ and ‘medical’ purposes to allow tourists to use it and develop a legal, medical marijuana industry.


In Spain, the drug can be bought by members of not-for profit cannabis clubs, where the drug is grown. A legal loophole allows the consumption of the drug in private spaces.

The first cannabis club opened its doors in 1991 and now there are over 500 across the country. Barcelona, capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia, has the highest concentration of cannabis clubs as the region’s government voted to legalise and regulate the production and possession of cannabis in clubs in 2017.

These new laws are considered to be some of the most liberal in Europe.


Sale and consumption of the drug is illegal in Morocco, the world’s second largest producer of hashish (a brown resin that is produced from marijuana plants).

In 2014 a bill was tabled to legalise the production of the drug for medical and industrial purposes, but it fell through.

Although conservative and religious groups still strongly oppose legalisation, the drug is broadly available. Foreign tourists flock to picturesque mountain villages where hashish is produced and the police do not generally interfere with the industry.


The cultivation and consumption of marijuana is a historical part of Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine where the leaf is sprinkled as a herb over food.

Police will turn a blind eye to locals growing it in their gardens and fields. Restaurants in tourist areas sell ‘happy’ pizza and other dishes made with the drug as Cambodia becomes more popular as a tourist destination.

But there have been crackdowns and a spate of large scale drug busts in the past couple of years. Nonetheless, use and sale of the drug is commonplace.


After Portugal decriminalised possession and personal use of all drugs in 2001, the country has seen a nationwide reduction in HIV infections, drug related deaths and prison populations.

Drug abuse is now seen as a medical condition and not a criminal act. If people are found with more than 10 days supply of marijuana, they are referred to medical services for support, rather than being arrested.

Production and trafficking of marijuana are still criminal offences that can carry sentences of up to 12 years.

Countries with strict laws


Indonesia made headlines in 2015 when nine foreigners were sentenced to life or executed for trafficking heroin.

Sentences are heavy for possession of marijuana too. In 2005, Schapelle Corby an Australian national, was sentenced to nine years in prison for trafficking just over 4kg of the drug.

Possession of small quantities is equally tough. Enough cannabis to make a joint can result in a four-year prison sentence.


Consumption of cannabis is viewed as a serious crime in Japan. Under the ‘cannabis control law’ dating back to 1948, citizens face a minimum of five years in prison as well as hard labour for possession of the small amounts.

Foreigners normally face immediate deportation, but in 1980 Sir Paul Macartney was imprisoned for nine days before being sent home for possessing 200g of marijuana.


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