Marijuana laws are constantly changing worldwide, especially in the United States. And while some political figures like Attorney General Jeff Sessions have been publicly against marijuana legalization, the War on Drugs is slowly being reevaluated.
In the midst of Election Day 2020, four new states legalized marijuana (Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and South Dakota) in the US, and more are thought to follow in 2021.
So, on that note, let’s get into the countries and states around the world where marijuana has been legalized for medical and recreational use.
Is Marijuana Use Legal in the US Under Federal Law?
If we look at the US as a whole, cannabis with THC content of over 0.3% is classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and possessing it is therefore illegal.
Meaning, if you’re caught in possession of marijuana by federal law enforcement, you could get a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,000, or up to a year of jail time for a first-time offense.
The penalties are even more severe for selling and cultivating marijuana, compared to possession. If you are caught with 50 kg (selling) or less than 50 plants (cultivating) of marijuana, you could be charged with up to 5 years of jail time, or up to $250,000 in fines.
Therefore, if it’s a conflict between state law and federal law, federal law wins, and you could be arrested by federal agents and prosecuted under federal law.
State Laws for Marijuana Use in the US (Medical and Recreational Use of Cannabis)
On the other hand, every state has its own laws concerning marijuana legalization which is at an all-time high in the United States right now. With marijuana being decriminalized in 32 states, cannabis laws are moving forward. That means, people found in possession of marijuana for personal consumption in decriminalized states for the first time don’t face arrest, prison time, or a criminal record.
On the other hand, medical marijuana patients can purchase legal marijuana in any state that has legalized adult use of marijuana and cannabis products. In those states, cannabis can be bought exclusively in medical marijuana dispensaries.
States With Legal Recreational Marijuana Use
The first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the US were Colorado and Washington State. Moreover, personal cultivation is allowed for up to 6 plants, as well as commercial cultivation and sales (with taxing regulations). Cannabis use is regulated similar to alcohol, and people over the age of 21 are allowed possession of up to an ounce of weed in these two states. According to The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), other states in the US that have since legalized recreational weed and medical marijuana include:
- New Jersey;
- South Dakota;
Apart from these 15 states, the District of Columbia has also legalized the adult use of marijuana. In 2014, Washington D.C. voted by ballot initiative to legalize marijuana possession and cultivation for recreational use, and the law went into effect on February 26, 2015.
Medical Marijuana Legalization
Apart from the 15 states and Washington D.C. having legalized recreational weed and medical cannabis, the following 20 states have only legalized the use of medical marijuana:
- New Hampshire;
- New Mexico;
- New York;
- North Dakota;
- Rhode Island;
- West Virginia.
Legalization of CBD Oil
While some states have legalized and decriminalized both THC and CBD use, there are states where THC is completely illegal, although CBD oil can legally be used for medical purposes. The following states have legalized the use of CBD oil:
States Where Marijuana Use Is Illegal
Even though laws around marijuana legalization are changing very fast, there are still some US states where the consumption, possession, and cultivation of marijuana are illegal. You might face state, as well as federal charges if you are caught in possession of marijuana in the following states:
- South Carolina;
Where Is It Legal to Use Marijuana Around the World?
North and South America
Recreational marijuana use has been legalized in Uruguay since 2013, and Canada followed in its steps in 2018, with these two countries being the only countries in the world where weed is fully legal. As the debate around the legalization of marijuana is unfolding, more countries are decriminalizing cannabis for either medical or personal use.
In Latin America, Mexico has legalized cannabis for medical use with THC content below 1%. Peru, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador have also legalized the use of medical cannabis.
Moreover, medical marijuana is legal in Barbados, Bermuda, Jamaica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Brazil, on the other hand, has legalized medical marijuana for terminally ill patients with no other treatment options.
There is no country where weed is fully legal in Europe, although the laws in the Netherlands, Georgia, and the Freetown Christiania in Denmark are as close as it gets to legalization on this continent at the moment.
- In Georgia, marijuana is legal for possession and consumption, but not for sale.
- The Netherlands are considered as the go-to state for weed aficionados as a result of the numerous licensed coffee shops where consumption and sale of weed is tolerated. Also, possession of up to 5g, as well as cultivation of up to 5 plants (unless it’s grown for commercial sale) is decriminalized.
- The Freetown Christiania located in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a self-declared autonomous community internationally known for its cannabis trade.
Denmark and Ireland have both implemented a pilot program for the medical use of cannabis with the first lasting 4 years, and the latter 5 years.
Some European states like Estonia and Finland have legalized the use of medical marijuana with a special license, and the UK has legalized the use of medical marijuana if it’s prescribed by a specialist consultant. And cannabis-derived drugs are legal for medical use in Romania (THC less than 0.2%), Slovenia, France, Spain, and Turkey.
Weed is legal for medical use in the following countries:
- North Macedonia;
- San Marino;
Australia and Oceania
In the Australian continent, cannabis isn’t fully legalized for either recreational or commercial use. In Australia, weed is legal for medical use at the federal level and in all states. In New Zealand, on the other hand, it’s legal to use marijuana medicinally, but not recreationally since 50.7% of voters voted no to the legalization of marijuana in the referendum in October 2020. Medical use of marijuana is also legal in the Vanuatu archipelago in Oceania.
In Asia, medical marijuana is legal in Israel, Lebanon, Thailand, and Sri Lanka (under the Ayurveda Act), while Pakistan has only allowed the medicinal use of CBD. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in South Korea has made a policy that allows the use of Epidiolex, Marinol, and Sativex for medical purposes. Until now, no country in Asia has fully legalized cannabis for commercial and recreational use.
In South Africa, marijuana is legal for possession and cultivation, while the commercial sale of cannabis is prohibited, with this being the closest country to fully legalizing cannabis. There are laws for the medical use of marijuana in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Ghana (under 0.3%). Other parts of Africa, have legalized neither commercial nor recreational use of cannabis.
Summary on Cannabis Legalization
As marijuana legalization is slowly gaining traction, more and more countries are legalizing marijuana for medical use, and some are even legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.
Weed is legal for both recreational and commercial use in 15 US states as well as Washington D.C., and legalized for medical use in 20 more countries.
Uruguay and Canada are the only two states in the world that have completely legalized the consumption of cannabis both recreationally and medically.