Cannabis Legalities: America vs. Other Countries

America is the #1 grower of legal marijuana in the world, and in 2016, the American market was worth $7.9 billion. It is expected to grow by at least 25% a year and could be worth over $20 billion by 2021. Despite the spectacular growth in the cannabis industry, the United States still lags well behind a number of nations around the world, in terms of weed’s legality.

At the time of writing, nine American states, plus D.C, allow recreational marijuana use while it is decriminalized in a further 13 states. A total of 29 states allow weed for medicinal use but there still a disturbing number of states that treat marijuana the same as heroin or other Schedule I drugs. More pertinently, marijuana is still illegal on a federal level.

In certain states, possession of marijuana is enough to warrant a prison sentence. In Georgia for example, possession of over an ounce is classified as a felony with a possible jail time of 10 years! If you’re caught selling even 15 pounds, it is enough to possibly land you in prison for 30 years along with a $100,000 fine.

While we like to believe that the United States is the ‘land of the free,’ it is far from being a trailblazer when it comes to marijuana usage. In this article, we look at several global nations with more lenient laws and, for balance, some with far stricter rules.

Countries with Relatively Lenient Marijuana Laws


Believe it or not, no country in the world comprehensively legalized the production, sale, and cultivation of cannabis until Uruguay broke the mold in 2014. Under the law, Uruguayans are allowed purchase up to 40 grams of weed a month from licensed pharmacies. The only caveats are that you have to be Uruguayan national, aged 18+, and registered on a government database designed to monitor marijuana purchases.

Uruguayans are also allowed to grow up to 480 grams in their homes every year (up to six plants), and they can form ‘smoking clubs’ of 15-45 members; these clubs can grow a maximum of 99 plants per annum.

Things weren’t always like this in Uruguay and it is believed that the arrest, and subsequent imprisonment, of Alicia Castilla, a noted author, caused such outrage in the country that the government decided to put the issue of marijuana legalization to a vote – changing it’s status. Weed in Uruguay at the time of the new law was about $1.30 a gram, compared to $3 on the streets. While things look promising for Uruguay, the world is watching with interest to see what becomes of this South American nation’s experiment.


America’s northern neighbor is getting ready to become the second country in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Canada passed the Cannabis Act which will take effect on July 1, 2018. Interestingly, only the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation will be allowed sell weed in Ontario which is bad news for all other pot dispensaries which will be forced to close.

July 2018 will be a celebration for all Canadian weed lovers as their beloved plant will be legalized nationwide. Bill C-45 will allow weed use for individuals aged 18+ with 30 grams set as the maximum possession limit. Canadians will also be allowed grow up to four plants in their home. Although edibles are not permitted for sale, individuals can make their own at home.


Although cannabis is illegal in the home of Bob Marley, it was decriminalized to an extent in February 2015. Now, possession of up to two ounces is classified as a petty offense with a fine of $5. Medicinal marijuana is legal all over Jamaica. Marijuana lovers are also allowed to cultivate a maximum of five plants, and members of the Rastafari faith are allowed smoke weed for religious purposes. If you are a tourist with a medical marijuana prescription, you’re allowed to apply for a permit to buy small amounts.


Despite its reputation for producing world-class weed, marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands although it is tolerated to a degree. For example, possession is technically illegal, but it is tolerated in the nation’s famous coffee shops. Overall, sale and possession of up to five grams have been decriminalised for the last 40 years but the whole weed legalization status is still confusing.

Bizarrely, while cultivation is illegal, coffee shop owners are allowed to sell weed to customers but still break the law because they have to source the cannabis from criminals. Recent election results that favored criminalizing cultivation means it could be a while before coffee shops can legally purchase weed.


Spain is yet another nation where marijuana sale and possession is a grey area. While it is illegal to sell cannabis in Spain, there are hundreds of Cannabis clubs in the country. Members of these clubs can purchase a certain amount of weed on the premises and use it there.

Technically, public consumption is prohibited, but Spanish police appear to be rather lenient when it comes to enforcing the law. Anyone who has ever visited Barcelona, for example, can attest to the large number of people openly smoking marijuana.


Portugal became the first country in the world to completely decriminalize the possession of all drugs in 2001. Interestingly, a European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction report found that the new law did not increase cannabis usage among young people.


In November 2017, the land of the Incas became the latest country to legalize the sale, possession, and cultivation, of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Peruvian Government is creating a list of ‘official’ importers/growers who will be allowed to provide weed to the nation’s medicinal marijuana patients.

Other Countries Where Marijuana is Legal in Some Form

If you live in Greece, Australia, Israel, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Poland, Italy, Macedonia, Switzerland, and a handful of other nations, you can purchase weed for specific medical conditions. Denmark has one of the most unusual laws in the world. Weed is illegal everywhere in Denmark expect an area called ‘Freetown’ in the nation’s capital, Copenhagen. In Freetown, the consumption and sale of cannabis is legal. It is a bizarre situation reminiscent of that season in The Wire when the drug dealers were allowed operate in a specific neighborhood!

America Isn’t So Bad! Countries with the Strictest Marijuana Laws


Convicted drug traffickers are executed in Malaysia, and people in possession of more than 200 grams are considered ‘traffickers.’ If you have 50 grams on your person, you can expect a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Incidentally, growing a single cannabis seed is grounds for life imprisonment!

Saudi Arabia

While first-time offenders can ‘get away’ with a 6-month jail term, repeat offenders are punished severely. A second offense results in seven years in prison while a third offense equals the death penalty.


Again, first-time offenders ‘only’ get a six-month rehab term. A second offense means up to 12 years in jail. Marijuana cultivators face the death penalty depending on how much they grow.


If you are caught smoking a joint in Singapore, you could spend the next decade in jail. Possession of 15 grams ensures you are charged as a drug trafficker and possession of over an ounce means the death penalty.

South Korea

If you’re planning to go to South Korea, it’s best not to smoke weed for a while in advance. If you are caught with traces of weed in your system, you could end up in jail for months.

Other countries with draconian marijuana laws include Vietnam, Dubai, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Iran, Costa Rica, Turkey, and Colombia.

Final Thoughts on America & Weed Around the World

Although the United States is certainly making strides when it comes to the legalization of weed, our northern neighbors are about to leave us in the shade. At the time of writing, Canada’s marijuana industry is the second most valuable in the world at $500 million. Within 18 months of full legalization, its market could grow to an astounding $22 billion! In other words, a nation with 10% of America’s population will have a bigger weed market share than the United States.

On the plus side, at least most American states lack the punitive laws in other countries. Imagine living in a place where smoking a joint could land you in prison for a longer time than a manslaughter conviction! Imagine facing a firing squad for possession of an ounce of weed! We hope that America continues to move forward and that one day, it will follow the lead of Uruguay and Canada by legalizing marijuana all over the country.

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