Global Cannabis Policies And Recent Developments

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Added 13 June 2021


Depending on where you live on this gorgeous little planet most of us call earth, which we all borrow from the next generation of humans to come, you will have different laws and policies when it comes to cannabis being legal or illegal. Because even with the growing legalization of cannabis worldwide there are still too many places where people have no or little access to cannabis, or that laws and policies lead to very confusing matters sometimes when it comes to buying, selling, growing, and possession for recreational or medical use. We can only dream at this moment of global legalization, but things are moving forward, especially looking at the past two decades. To put it in the right words : It is a new industry that can only keep on growing in the following decades to come! Because there is so much to say and write about this topic, we divided it into the different continents.


When it comes to Europe, this might be the most confusing but yet one of the most promising places where the legal cannabis industry is on the rise. When it comes to lawmaking and legislation, there is no harmonized EU law on cannabis possession or consumption, barely even about trafficking. The criminal or administrative response to drug-related offenses is the responsibility of the EU Member States, not of the European Union ( 27 countries but I guess there is not much union going on on that level ) and it is because of this that there are situations like the following :

Belgium, the "center of Europe", and the place of birth of the writer of this article, is probably one of the dumbest places but also most stubborn to keep cannabis illegal. Take in mind, Holland/Netherlands with its "legal coffeeshops" is right next door, and even though in Holland the whole coffeeshop culture works in a grey area of the law where people can legally own and grow small amounts but the coffeeshops still operate illegally in many ways.
The difference with Belgium is massive where everything is still 100% illegal but possession of small amounts has the lowest prosecution priority so you will not go to jail unless circumstances are on a criminal level ( but this has to be taken with a grain of salt, just look up the story of Trekt Uw Plant cannabis organization that was basically bullied for years by the Belgian justice department, which led the club to go bankrupt and even one of their growers committed suicide ). On the medical side, there is access to Sativex, but it is a long road and the only legal cannabis substance in Belgium.

In another neighboring country of Belgium, Luxembourg, only medical cannabis is legal, and the other neighboring countries of Belgium, which are France and Germany, are now both undergoing medical trials for the legalization of medical cannabis.

Israel can be called the Middle Eastern exception. Today, there are over 50 laboratories conducting research on medicinal cannabis in the various universities and academic institutions of Israel. The comprehensive scientific knowledge and exploration of opportunities for scientific and industrial development have led Israel to undertake reforms on cannabis that do not necessarily match with its approach towards other drugs and beliefs, and let us not forget what is happening between Israel and Palestine!

When it comes to Spain and Portugal, they are probably Europe's leaders when it comes to being a good place to live as a cannabis user, not only is the weather much better, the situation is as following. In Portugal, it is completely decriminalized unless when criminal circumstances (+25gr ) are the case and in Spain, it is still illegal basically but this is only enforced in public and will depend on the area and situation and in many places in Spain there are areas with weed spots called cannabis social clubs and this article is partially written in one in Barcelona. Although these clubs operate in the same vague way as in Holland, it works and is a good sign of what might come the standard across Europe.

Austria has decriminalized small amounts and there is access to cannabis-derived substances for medical use but limited.
The Czech Republic is another European country with a quite tolerant attitude towards cannabis because recreational use has been decriminalized and there is also a medical marijuana program.
Denmark is a place where it is illegal by law but you will get a fine at most for small amounts and there is limited access to medical cannabis products.
Lithuania, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and many more European countries have started with legalizing medical cannabis use, but in most of them, this does not seem to get off the ground because of awaiting trials and not being able to produce it or import it and many are limited to only a few cannabis products with Sativex being the dominant one.

If we take a look at what is happening in Europe and the number of countries that have legalized medical cannabis, we can only see that in the following decade more will follow, and let us hope the same will be the case for decriminalizing recreational use!

North America

USA / Canada :

To my opinion, the continent that is leading the movement at this moment is without a doubt North America, and the two countries that are taking the head of that lead are Canada and the USA. But there is a clear reason why there is a massive difference between the two when it comes to financial numbers. This has to do with the fact that in the United States, many US-based companies are limited to their own respective states which means they have less access to financial reserves and will also have a harder time collaborating with others or export to other states/countries. On the other hand, in Canada where medical cannabis is legal since 2001 and recreational since 2018, it is still booming, but there have been more than a few mass layoffs, billion-dollar stock-market losses, executive firings, and corporate scandals because of the way their legislation handled it and there is still a huge black market there just because of the simple reason that there are not enough retail cannabis stores.

In the USA it is to my humble opinion only a matter of time to see all states legalizing cannabis for recreational and medical use. The last time we counted there are 14 states where US citizens can buy and use recreational and medical cannabis with New York being the last that was added to that list on March 31st 2021. When it comes to states where only medical use is legal, there are about 15 at the moment of writing this article which means there are still 21 states where it is completely illegal but some of those states have ballots passed but there are still legal challenges remaining and others have voted for medical use but there is no legislature or medical tests still need to be passed and such.

South America

In South America there are also big differences to be found but let us start with Uruguay being the first country in the world to completely legalize the cannabis market for medical and scientific purposes, as well as for industrial growers and recreational use. However, it seems that the regulation is made in a way that it is still hard to get your hands on, even for products such as Sativex on prescription.
In Chili, the story is different. People can become members of non-profit "growing clubs" in a similar way as in Spain but to get it on a medical prescription the scenario is very similar as in Uruguay.  Colombia is also moving forward because in 2015 they created a framework to allow access to medical cannabis and more scientific research but the state remains to have full control over the market by giving out private licenses for production and that comes at a very high cost and makes it harder for a small grower to get these standards up to the right level.
Argentina, Peru, and Mexico have also adopted other, less ambitious, regulatory processes. In those countries, reforms resulted from active pressure from civil society and patients’ groups, leading to the approval of policies allowing for the sale and use of medicinal cannabis.
In Jamaica, cannabis for medicinal or therapeutic purposes must be recommended or prescribed by a registered physician or a health professional certified by the
Ministry of Health. Import of cannabis products by patients is allowed as long as the physician certifies that the patient is suffering from an illness. However, very few practitioners prescribe cannabis as a medicine. Tourists or people who do not reside in Jamaica can apply for a permit that allows them to purchase and possess up to two ounces (56 grams) of ganja!


This is the continent where we have the least to talk about. Even though the continent is the origin of many landraces that created very well-known strains, all across the continent there is a policy that makes it illegal, except for the following places.
In 2017, Lesotho became the first country on the continent to grant an administrative license for the commercial cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. Since then, several countries have followed suit, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, Swatini, Zambia, Uganda, and Rwanda. Ghana has also authorized cannabis production, but only for varieties with THC (the plant’s psychoactive ingredient) levels of 0.3% or less.
South Africa, the birthplace of Durban, is probably the one with the most liberal laws of the entire continent or maybe even the world now. Personal, medical, and recreational use has been decriminalized, however, selling or distributing is still illegal but it is legal to supply for your own needs!


Although Asia continues to be at the forefront of repressive drug policies, and medicinal cannabis remains prohibited in Japan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia and Nepal. However, there have been positive developments in several countries of the region. 

In India, the law distinguishes two types of cannabis products: ganja (the flowers) and charash, or hashish (cannabis resin) with regulations being more relaxed for the farmer. The country already has some legal provisions for the medicinal and scientific usage of the plant, but these provisions have yet to be implemented.
In the Philippines, while President Duterte continues to wage his stupid war on drugs across the country, the House Committee on Health approved the Medical Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act in September 2016. This law prohibits the use of cannabis in its raw form and stipulates that patients need prior authorization from a doctor, and the treatment will be delivered in dedicated centers with a special license from the Department of Health, in hospitals, in other words, fully controlled by the state.
Meanwhile, in Thailand a public forum was held in the year 2016, to remove cannabis from Category 5 of the country’s drug legislation, and the Agricultural Council was tasked with developing a proposal for the decriminalization of the substance for consideration by the government. From 1st January 2017, hemp was decriminalized in 15 districts and six provinces of the northern region.


There have been significant developments in Australia on the medicinal cannabis front in recent years. Since 2016 the country has a new national body that can issue licenses to growers and regulate medicinal cannabis crops so that medicinal marijuana can be cultivated in Australia. Medical practitioners may supply a medicinal cannabis product to a patient after notifying the relevant regulatory authority and obtaining prior permission from the state or territory government department. This is done on a patient-by-patient basis and medicinal cannabis can also be used for clinical trials. New Zealand also introduced the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill in December 2017 with the goal of making medicinal cannabis available without criminal liability!

Conclusion : A Challenging Transition 

Let us hope that one day in our lifetime we can speak about global legalization, and if that time comes, it would only be fair for the ones that have paved the way for us to have these recent policy changes in place, and also those who have suffered unfairly from "the war on drugs", including those that got into the illicit cannabis trade because of mostly economical reasons or an absence of other viable opportunities, for all of them to be the first in line to benefit from this new industry. However, for the ones who are trying to get out of illegality, there are massive difficulties because of a combination of how the criminalization system works in certain areas of the globe and also the legal and administrative hurdles that have to be crossed to enter this industry. This is especially hard for those small-scale farmers that like to produce in a more traditional way, something we can only admire doing. We can only hope one day to have global, well-designed legislation with good market strategies in order to control these transnational corporations and foreign investors.


Feel free to explain the situation from your location in the comments down below!


Cannabis Opportunities in Africa- Shira Petrack

Global Report on Cannabis Policy  - World Law Group ( 2020 )

The changing business of cannabis - John Collins ( 2020 )

Medicinal cannabis policies and practices around the world- Sofía Aguilar/Víctor Gutiérrez/Lisa Sánchez/Marie Nougier ( 2018)

Marijuana legalization is sweeping the US. See every state where cannabis is legal. - Jeremy Berke , Shayanne Gal , Yeji Jesse Lee ( 2021 )

Is Europe’s Cannabis Sector Poised for Take Off? - Benjamin-Alexandre Jeanroy ( 2016 )



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IIRC within the NL there is/are also licensed companies allowed to refine/research Cannabis. Ofcourse the licenses are only granted to companies where a minister has a position within the company 😜 It's only legal if the right people make money from it!
Hi, Correct me if im wrong, but i picked up some news about Wallonië being more pro than the Flemish side. Growshops are allowed and ive heard something, not actually read the article, about ps and mr looking to Start a CSC. Flemish goverment is still stuck between 1302 14 july and the WW1. 😂😂😂 any form of progression or evulotion scares them. 🙏🌿🌿🌿🙏
Very informative, but a poorly written article.
My experience in the UK: - Growing is a big no in the eyes of the law and can land one anything between a fine with a criminal record to time in prison depending on the size of the grow. - Possession beyond a half Oz tempts criminal charge but less than that is usually let off with a warning. - Caught smoking a joint in public usually gets ignored especially since it's becoming more socially acceptable. At worst, a police officer may confiscate or ask you to put it out. However, in my experience when I've literally rubbed shoulders with a passing officer by accident, nothing came of it and I wasn't even given a second look. This was a while back in Camden Market, London, which is our small equivalent to Amsterdam, so maybe no surprises there. As time goes, the UK as a whole seems to be gradually relaxing it's stance on cannabis use, and a CannaCard can be obtained if the need for medical use is approved. However, the UK government is funding possibly one of the largest grows for medical cannabis and funds research into this also. The whole thing is strictly protected, however, and delaying decriminalisation is likely keeping up profits from this.
Nothing related to Romania, and somehow I understand the author's attitude of not writing anything about this country, where the laws are made on his knees, a country full of Ethnobotanical drugs... :(