Why Are Countries All Over The World Legalizing Marijuana All at the Same Time?
Canada is on track to become the second country in the world to legalize the consumption and sale of recreational marijuana, after Uruguay made the big leap in 2014. On Thursday, the Liberal government introduced its Cannabis Act, which allows people aged 18 and over to purchase and consume marijuana.
Much like alcohol, many of the nuts and bolts of legislation will be left to the provinces, who will be able to raise the minimum age if they so wish, and will be required to implement a retail system.
The Trudeau government also plans to punish people for driving under the influence of marijuana, selling it to minors and importing or exporting it without a government permit.
Here’s a look at some other countries that have either legalized, decriminalized or simply chosen to tolerate recreational marijuana.
In 2014, Uruguay became the first country to comprehensively legalize the production, sale and consumption of recreational marijuana, Reuters reported.
The South American country allows adults to buy up to 40 grams of marijuana every month from approved pharmacies. Cannabis users must first register with authorities and have their purchases tracked.
Registered pot users can even set up smoking clubs of anywhere from 15 to 45 people to grow marijuana with other enthusiasts. These cannabis cooperatives can plant up to 99 plants in the same space.
While Canada’s government is said to be eyeing the millions and possible billions in tax revenue to be obtained through marijuana, Uruguay exempts cannabis from taxes otherwise imposed on agricultural products, only mandating a value-added tax for sale.
Commercial growers are charged a fee, but this measure intends “to keep the price competitive with the black market, not to maximize state income,” according to a Brookings Institute report.
You could be forgiven for thinking that marijuana is legal in Amsterdam, one of the world’s most well-known tourism destinations for pot smokers.
But it’s not. Rather, it’s tolerated.
The possession and sale of small amounts of pot — up to 5 grams — has been decriminalized in the country for just over 40 years, according to the research publication Crime and Justice.
However, cultivation of the plants is illegal. This means the country’s famous coffee shops can legally sell marijuana to customers, but owners have to source their product from criminal elements, Dutchnews.nl reports.
It’s a legal grey zone that some Dutch lawmakers are trying to clear up. In February, the country’s lower house of parliament narrowly voted in favour of establishing a system of legalized, state-approved commercial growers, the BBC reported.
However, the results of the country’s recent election mean the lower house of parliament no longer has a pro-cannabis majority.
For that reason, it may be some time yet before proprietors of Amsterdam’s coffee shops can source their marijuana legally, rather than awkwardly procure weed from illegal growers while authorities look the other way.
The sale of marijuana is technically illegal in Spain, but the country is home to hundreds of cannabis clubs, according to a blog post by Nadja Vietz of the international law firm Harris Bricken.
Legally speaking, cannabis clubs operate as collectives where people can consume marijuana on the club’s property, and only a certain amount. Members technically pay to own a part of the club, rather than to buy marijuana, allowing them to evade punishment for selling marijuana.
Private consumption of marijuana is permitted while public consumption remains outlawed. But as Vietz writes, and as anyone who has walked the streets of Barcelona on a weekend night can attest, public consumption isn’t a major enforcement priority for police.
Unlike Canada, however, Spain doesn’t have a medical marijuana regimen in place. According to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Certification Clinic, Spanish doctors cannot prescribe medical marijuana, so patients who use pot for medical purposes turn to the same cannabis clubs frequented by recreational users.
In 2001, Spain’s next-door neighbour Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of all drugs.
The measure was not found to result in an increase in cannabis use by young people or any further attendant problems for law enforcement, according to a report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
The report emphasizes that Portugal’s decriminalizing of drug use was part of a broader effort to tackle drugs — particularly hard drugs like heroin — as a public health issue rather than a criminal one. It said the Portuguese model “might in fact be best described as being a public health policy founded on values such as humanism, pragmatism and participation.”
Canada’s Health Minister Jane Philpott was eager to emphasize that the Liberals’ legal pot regime was crafted based on an evidence-based, public health approach.
“The proposed legislation would allow Canadian adults to possess and purchase regulated and quality-controlled cannabis products, while prohibiting sales to young Canadians and any products, promotion, packaging or labelling that could be appealing to young people,” Philpott said.
The consumption and sale of marijuana is illegal at the federal level, but a number of states have legalized recreational pot, including California, Colorado and Washington.
However, there are now concerns that the Trump administration may reverse progressive marijuana policies put in place by Barack Obama. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has previously disapproved of marijuana legalization and use.
“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions told a Senate drug hearing in April 2016.
WATCH: Trump administration preparing for showdown with the states over marijuana regulation
Marijuana is illegal in India but is tolerated in several provinces, due in large part to its close association with Hindu spirituality and traditional medicine. Worshippers in Hindu holy cities like Varanasi can purchase bhang (a cannabis-infused beverage) and other marijuana edibles from government-authorized stores.
Because cannabis is a native plant in India, it is often grown unchecked in forests and on mountains, according to National Geographic.
Although marijuana has long been entrenched in Jamaican and Rastafarian culture, its use was illegal until early 2015, when lawmakers voted to decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces (56.6 grams) and allow users to cultivate up to five plants in their home, the Guardian reported.