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Here we take a quick look at a few countries around the world in the context of their stance (legal, somewhat legal, decriminalized…) on marijuana. Not meant as a definitive guide or in-depth study, it’s meant simply as a starting point for international enthusiasts, and a way to understand how the push for cannabis legalization might look in the United States.

Cannabis in Portugal

Portugal is a smaller, quieter country than its next-door neighbor Spain. It doesn’t see the level of tourism or publicity that surrounding countries do. But the food is fantastic, the culture is one of passion and music, and, in 2001, it became the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of any/every/ all drugs.

Yes, all of them. Don’t even bother to ask about specifics. If you have a certain drug in mind, know that it was decriminalized.

It was an unpreceded attempt to curb what was seen as a dramatic increase in drug usage in the country, and a citizen-focused way to treat the problem in the open instead in the shadows of criminality; treating drug addiction as a public health issue instead of a taboo one.

This is a photo of a man consuming THC

It was a plan said to be founded on “…values such as humanism, pragmatism and participation.”

And, quieting the measure’s loudest critics, the move did not lead to any increase drug use (for cannabis or for youth, specifically), or any new, or otherwise unforeseen problems for local law enforcement.


Canada, which recently passed legislation to legalize cannabis as well, claimed to have used Portugal’s “public health” and youth-oriented approach as the inspiration for their own push, at least according to Canada’s Health Minister Jane Philpott.

In Spain

The sale of marijuana is still officially illegal in Spain – even while neighboring Portugal has taken a much more liberal approach to drug use. Individuals can, however, possess up to 100 grams for personal use – in the privacy of their own homes.

Source: Canna Law Blog: Marijuana in Spain

The country is als0 home to “cannabis clubs” where people can use cannabis for recreational purposes without (much) fear of consequence.

This is a photo of nightlife

Cannabis clubs work basically as collectives that create a safe space for people to consume marijuana – though they have to stay on the club’s property when consuming cannabis and are only allowed to enjoy a certain amount as per the rules. It works like so: Members of the club are part owners – and that’s what you’re paying for when you go to one. You’re not technically paying for the marijuana, which allows them to skirt the technicalities of Spain’s drug laws.

Basically, consumption of cannabis in private is allowed (tolerated, say), and use of cannabis in public and remains illegal and enforced to the letter of the law. Although, as the source above can confirm, it’s not an overly strict enforcement: Anyone who knows the streets of Barcelona on weekend nights can tell you that it’s not something that police officers spend their time on.

What is enforced? Spain’s stance on medical. The country’s laws don’t allow for medical marijuana, and Spanish doctors are not allowed to prescribe cannabis in any case. This means, then, that patients looking to use cannabis for medical purposes can typically be found at the same cannabis clubs designed for those looking for recreational use.

In the Netherlands

Amsterdam has long been known as the cannabis capital of the world. Mentioned in pop culture in films from Pulp Fiction, to Eurotrip, to Hostel, and still considered the go-to destination in general for a cannabis-based vacation, it might seem like a duh question of whether or not marijuana is actually legal in the Netherlands.

It is. Of course. Right?

Wrong, actually.

Cannabis in Amsterdam is not legal outright. It’s what they like to call tolerated and regulated.

Here’s how it works for the Dutch: The possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana, i.e., up to 5 grams, has been decriminalized in the country for around 40 years.

Source: Crime and Justice.

This is a photo of a cannabis shop in the Netherlands, connected to High End Confections in St. Paul, Minnesota

Cultivation of marijuana plants, however, remains illegal. What this means is that, while the (in)famous Amsterdam coffee shops can indeed sell marijuana to customers legally, the proprietors of the coffee shops still have to look to the more criminal underground in order to source their product to sell.


Confusing? Indeed.

It’s something of a legal grey area that Dutch lawmakers have been trying to clarify for years. In February of 2018, the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament voted (in a very close vote) in favor of supporting legalized, state-approved commercial growers: A legal, and clear, system at last.

Source: The BBC

Problems arose, however, after the results of the country’s recent election lost the lower house of parliament’s pro-cannabis majority. While far-right (and staunchly anti-cannabis) candidate Geert Wilders and his party was held at bay, it still meant a bit of a setback for all-out legalization.

Thus, it could be a little while yet before Amsterdam’s coffee shop owners can procure their marijuana legally. The strange relationship between legal and illegal will remain until then; sneaking around buying Blue Dreams in bulk while the authorities look the other way, tolerating the industry as tourists flood in looking for what they think is legal nug.

Interested in reading more about cannabis, THC, and its many uses around the world? Check this out: Cannabis Walls Will Keep This House Cool in Israel

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