The cannabis industry world has recently been rocked by the announcement that Germany plans to join the very short list of nations where cannabis is legalized for all purposes. This is only happening on the heels of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s departure from office. Her successor, Olaf Scholz, plans to legalize cannabis by 2022.

Since news in the cannabis industry goes by in a blur, we’re guessing most readers haven’t been keeping tabs on the global cannabis legalization scheme. You’re probably up to learn something new here, so read on!


The Five Nations Where Cannabis is Legal (Recreational)

While medical usage of cannabis is fully legalized in about 50 countries, to varying degrees, fully legalized countries are a bit more rare. The only five countries to have legalized cannabis for recreational use. They are:


Canada is the only truly fully legalized nation for cannabis as of 2021. There are no restrictions on any of medical usage, transport, sale, purchase, cultivation, or use, aside from practical considerations like licensing and age restrictions. Go Canada!


Uruguay is a nation that is so obscure, John Oliver would make a joke out of highlighting the wrong region of a map on an episode of Last Week Tonight. But Uruguay has found itself a leader in legalizing cannabis, with the restriction that foreign visitors cannot purchase (cancel your travel plans!) and a limit on home-cultivation to six plants.


We’re talking about the nation of Georgia, roughly located between Russia and Turkey, not the state. Georgia is one of the three countries legalizing cannabis for recreational use, but forbidding sale, just like our own Washington D.C. situation.


Mexico has been a surprise to some, because US lawmakers associated weed with Mexican immigrants. Many Americans assumed that either cannabis was legal in Mexico or laws against it weren’t enforced. Mexico has only recently legalized, but the legislation isn’t exactly on stable ground yet. At any rate, they only allow possession and use at this point, no sales.

South Africa

Hardly the first country you think of in the category of progressive nations, but South Africa rounds out the list of countries with legalized recreational cannabis policies. Here again, it is legal to own it and use it, but not sell it.


Nations With Legalized Cannabis Zones

You might wonder, why wasn’t the United States in the above list? That’s because it’s not federally legal, although that status is a political hot potato in the news, naturally. Instead, state by state cannabis law is set individually, spanning the whole gamut from fully legal to merely being decriminalized.

Well, it turns out that this same case applies in some other nations too. These countries have partially legalized recreational cannabis in some regions.


Everybody thinks cannabis is legal in the Netherlands thanks to the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction. John Travolta’s character Vincent Vega tells his partner about the permissive “hash bars” in Amsterdam. Those are in fact the only places where cannabis use is acceptable, and then only tolerated, not clearly permitted legally. These coffeeshops in Amsterdam must have a special license granting them clemency from ordinary cannabis laws. With that said, possession of small amounts for personal use is decriminalized or unenforced for the most part.


Like the the Amsterdam coffee shops, Spain allows “Cannabis Social Clubs.” The rest of the country decriminalizes or doesn’t enforce small amounts for personal use.


Cannabis is fully legal in the Australian Capital Territory, but not permitted for sale. It is also decriminalized in the Northern Territory and in South Australia.

Barbados and Jamaica

These two countries are the only ones with a special religious exemption to cannabis law. Thus, cannabis is legalized but only for those who are registered as Rastafarian! Despite Ethiopia being closely associated with the Rastafari movement (to the point of tolerating their flag being appropriated all over the world), Ethiopia keeps cannabis illegal all around for any purpose.


While cannabis is universally prohibited in India, even for medical use, they allow an exception for a beverage recipe called “bhang.” This is a smoothie-like beverage made from the leaves of the plant, and even used ceremoniously or traditionally in Hindu religion.


Countries With “Slack” Cannabis Policy

There is very little difference between countries which have decriminalized cannabis, and those which just don’t bother to enforce it. Possession of “small amounts for personal use” is the overall guideline. You’re allowed to grow some of your own at home in most cases. Generally speaking, all other prohibitory laws still apply, including intent to sell, transport, or traffic.

Cannabis is one of the few policy matters treated this way legally, which goes to show that it is considered largely harmless by law enforcement worldwide. The global sense we get is that police in any nation would rather do almost anything else than try to arrest everybody carrying a couple joints. But they can still selectively control large-scale drug trafficking operations.

Wherever cannabis is either decriminalized or unenforced, the rule of thumb is that you’re cool blazing away as long as you’re either minding your own business, not making a big display of it in public, in the privacy of your own home, etc. By and large, countries with a slacker cannabis policy also tend to have legalization to some degree for medical cannabis.

Decriminalized (maybe unenforced too)

Argentina, Bermuda, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany (currently), Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Slovenia, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Moldova, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Unenforced (nobody cares)

Finland, Morocco, Poland, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Egypt, Iran, Laos, Lesotho, Myanmar, and Nepal.


Bonus Round : Which Countries Smoke the Most Pot?

Once again, we’re in for a list that might not coincide with our expectations. Reported cannabis consumption doesn’t seem to show much correlation with the legal attitude towards cannabis in that country.

In order of consumption, from most to least, the top ten cannabis-craving countries are:

    • United States
    • Canada
    • New Zealand
    • Denmark
    • Australia
    • Chile
    • France
    • The UK
    • Italy
    • Spain


What Can We Learn From Global Cannabis Policy?

A large percentage of the world seems to take the stance that cannabis has at least some value for therapy or medicine. A tiny sliver of the world’s population considers cannabis to have a spiritual purpose. And yet another chunk of the world considers cannabis to be a really small deal as long as it’s kept to the sidelines.

Meanwhile here in America, we can finally be assured that at least part of the country has the most relaxed cannabis laws and the most thriving retail scene in the world. But at the same time, as more countries test out ending prohibition, we might see that cannabis is leading the way in reforming global substance policy.

Readers, what have you discovered about cannabis policy in your globe-trotting adventures? Regale us with your worldly wisdom in the comments or our chill forum.


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