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The countries with liberal cannabis policies

Monir Ghaedi
October 15, 2021

Germany's budding coalition is considering the legalization of cannabis. DW takes a look at a few countries that have already adopted a softer stance.

a person smoking a marijuana cigarette
More countries are keen to adopt tolerant approaches towards drugsImage: Bildagentur-online/Hermes Images/picture alliance

Marijuana may be an issue of easy agreement in the ongoing coalition talks between Germany's leading parties. Despite numerous points of contention, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens can find themselves aligned when it comes to cannabis legalization.

The FDP emphasizes the revenue that the state could earn from taxing prerolled joints, cannabis flower and edibles. The Greens say legalization would put an end to illegal sales and reduce organized crime.

On Wednesday, Social Democrat health expert Karl Lauterbach urged the next government to legalize cannabis.

Here is a look at countries that have already loosened their policies. 

Famous Dutch coffee shops

The government of the Netherlands insists that, like other soft drugs, cannabis is tolerated but it is not legal. Still, its recreational use has been decriminalized since 1976, bringing fame to the Netherlands for its liberal attitude in handling marijuana.

Dutch coffee shops can sell up to 5 grams (.2 ounce) of soft drugs to each person per day, but they have to follow strict licensing regulations. For example, they are not allowed to serve alcohol.

Advertising the coffee shop or drugs is forbidden, and keeping more than 500 grams of soft drugs in the shops' stock is considered a crime.

Coffee shops are only allowed to sell drugs to the residents of the Netherlands. Dutch authorities have been thinking about reinforcing the latter a bit more strictly; a study commissioned by Amsterdam showed that for 57% of foreigners traveling to Amsterdam, going to such coffeeshops is a "very important reason" for their visit.

Dutch Coffee Shop in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has about 250 coffee shops where residents can buy soft drugsImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Klein

Uruguay: Legal pot for Tourists

In 2013, Uruguay made headlines for becoming the first country to fully legalize the nationwide recreational use of cannabis. Since then, nonmedical users could register themselves to buy marijuana through one of the three legal forms of supply: home growing, clubs, or pharmacies.

Each adult Uruguayan is allowed to grow up to six plants at home, but the harvest must not be more than 480 grams of marijuana per year.

Now, the country is planning to open its weed market to tourists.

The aim, in Deputy Tourism Minister Remo Monzeglio words, isn't to promote Uruguay as a destination for cannabis tourism, but rather to steer tourists away from street sales and into the regulated market.

But a 2018report showed that an estimated majority of marijuana users continued to purchase it from the unregulated market.

Jamaica: limitless ritual joints

The island has long been associated with pot and reggae music but it decriminalized possession of small amounts of weed only in 2015.

Individuals are allowed to cultivate up to five cannabis plants. Smoking ganja, local slang for marijuana, is legal in licensed dispensaries and private residences. People caught with less than about 50 grams of marijuana face no arrest or criminal record — but they are supposed to pay a small fine unless they have a medical prescription.

Followers of the Rastafari religion are allowed to smoke an unlimited amount of ganja for sacramental purposes. Rastafarians consider Ganja the "wisdom weed” and use it to aid in meditation to get closer to their inner spiritual self.

A cannabis farm in Germany
The global cannabis market is boomingImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

Portugal's radical drugs policy

In 2001, Portugal made a radical shift towards drug decriminalization.

Personal possession of any type of substance is considered a mere administrative offense. No prison charges or criminal records will follow those who get caught with drugs, Instead, they are asked to register themselves at a rehabilitation center, pay fines, or do community service, depending on the amount of weed in possession.

Portugal, however, still puts marijuana under the same category as heroin. That means people who do not have a prescription for medical marijuana, and still want to purchase the drug, resort to buying pot from illegal dealers.

Canada: Marijuana legalization and jail populations

The recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018. A state-commissioned 2020study showed that, despite expectations, the daily consumption of marijuana only increased about 1%, for all age groups. Teenagers' daily consumption, which many feared would spike after legalization, rose about 3%.

But legalization made a huge difference in reducing the number of cannabis-related arrests. In 2018, the police recorded 26,402 possession cases until legalization went into effect in mid-October. In 2019, that number dropped to 46, according to Statistics Canada.

Possession of more than 30 grams of marijuana remains a crime.

But legalization brought a huge change in the disproportionate effect Canada's incarcerations have on minorities. A study by the Ontario Human Rights Commission showed that while Black people made up 8.8% of the population of Toronto, they had faced 34% of marijuana possession charges from 2013 through 2017.

Nun holding a Marijuana cigarette.
Possession of cannabis is illegal under US federal law but at state level policies vary.Image: Reuters/L. Nicholson

US: Financial gains in legalization

A total of 35 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, 16 of which allow adults to legally use the substance for recreational use. The states of Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana nearly 10 years ago. Since then, a bulk of research projects have examined the impacts of legalization on the US economy.

A recent report by Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank, found that in 2020 alone the legal marijuana industry created 77,000 jobs across the US.

The report also highlighted the lucrative tax revenues of the legal marijuana trade. Colorado makes an average of  $20 million a month, and California's government — which legalized adult recreational use in 2016 — collects a monthly average of about $50 million.

Georgia, South Africa and Mexico join the club

The countries Georgia and South Africa both legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2018. 

In just one year, Georgia scrapped criminal penalties for marijuana use and introduced legislation to allow marijuana exports.

In March, Mexico's Supreme Court decriminalized the private recreational use of cannabis by adults. Although selling marijuana is not legal in Mexicothe country with 129 million residents may become one of the largest marijuana markets in the world.

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