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From the must-visit cafes in Amsterdam to the model nation, Uruguay, take a look at the canna-scopic view of the industry worldwide.
In 2001, Canada legalized medical marijuana and, in turn, became the first-ever country to regulate the medicinal use of marijuana. Now, as Canada prepares to legalize recreational cannabis, the world is watching.
Pulling in investments, partnerships, and collaborations, the $37 billion industry is going international. Poised to lead the charge, here’s how Canada compares with other countries when it comes to the cannabis industry and legalization.
PORTUGAL: Decriminalization ends a nation-wide crisis
Status: Not legal, but possession and personal use decriminalized
In the late 1990s, Portugal was a mess. Skyrocketing rates of addiction, prison crowding, and HIV epidemic was pushing the country to the brink of social disaster. But then, the government stepped in and did something truly shocking. In 2001, all drugs were decriminalized. People caught with small quantities of drugs are sent to a panel comprising a psychologist, social worker, and a legal adviser, instead of jail.
Now 17 years later, there’s no denying how significant the decision was. The crisis stabilized and there was a substantial drop in drug-related crimes. Learning from the past, there have been recent developments urging for the legalization of cannabis to put an end to the illegal trafficking of cannabis.
URUGUAY: The Model Nation
Uruguay fully legalized cannabis in 2013. Judging by the market value of their industry (illegal market alone worth $30m, according to Martin Fernández, a lawyer working for the Association of Cannabis Studies, who was quoted in an article by The Guardian), a sharp decline in crime rates and increase in employment opportunities, there’s no mistaking that the tiny South American nation with a population of only 3.4 million people has proven that a legal cannabis industry can be effective.
Uruguay is the only country in the world to fully legalize the production, sale, and consumption of recreational marijuana. Interestingly, the government is also actively involved in the regulation process. Adult resident users must register with the authorities that monitor their purchases, which can be no more than 40 g per month. Residents can also collaborate and grow their own through Uruguayan Cannabis Clubs. “These organizations, formed by up to 45 adults and with a legal limit to grow up to 99 plants, appear to provide a safe method of procuring cannabis,” said a report, titled ‘Cannabis clubs in Uruguay’ in International Journal of Drug Policy. Currently, the country has 83 cannabis clubs and over 8,000 Uruguayans are registered as home growers.
AMSTERDAM: Must-visit tourist destination
Status: Not legal, but can still be consumed in ‘coffee shops’
Amsterdam is famous worldwide not just for its unique art, architecture, and history, but also their “coffee shops” which have made the nation a must-visit tourist destination. With almost 600 ‘coffee shops’ aka establishments where locals and tourists can purchase and consume cannabis, recreational cannabis is still illegal—but its usage and consumption are often tolerated by authorities. While cultivation is strictly illegal, possession and sale of small quantities, up to 5 g, is not punishable under law. Foreigners, on the other hand, are not allowed to purchase at all, but that doesn’t seem to stop the tourists.
INDIA: Going back to the sacred roots
Status: Illegal; cultivation and trade partially restricted
Considered one of the sacred plants, the earliest mention of cannabis in Indian history dates back to early 2000 to 1400 BC, and in modern times is most popularly consumed as a beverage. While cannabis cultivation for industrial purposes is permitted, private use could lead to six months in jail or a hefty fine.
Pushing for change, the government finally issued the first-ever licence to grow medicinal cannabis for research purposes last year. Now, the industries are following suit starting with one of India’s leading Ayurveda-based products maker, Patanjali Ayurved. “In Ayurveda, since ancient times, parts of cannabis (hemp), for instance, have been used for medicinal purposes. So, we are looking at various formulations. We should ponder over the benefits and positive uses of the cannabis plant,” said the company’s chief executive Balkrishna in a recent interview with Quartz India.
CALIFORNIA (USA): One of the largest markets for recreational cannabis
Legalizing recreational marijuana earlier this year, California is the sixth state in the US to join the cannabis bandwagon after Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada. While medical marijuana has been legalized for over two decades, the complete legalization of the state marked a new beginning for one of nation’s fast-growing cannabis industry. Compared to other states, California is one of the biggest producers of cannabis, much of which is sold illegally. In an estimate by the New York Times, the state produces seven times more than it consumes.
Who’s next? While Canada’s in the spotlight, let’s also take a look at the countries that could soon follow suit.
Italy: One of the top hemp producers in the early 20th century, cannabis forms an integral part of Italy’s history and culture. Medical marijuana was legalized in 2007 and earlier this year, political movements have garnered momentum to legalize it recreationally.
Germany: Home to the largest medical marijuana market in Europe, as reported by Prohibition Partners, talks are in progress between the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party—part of which includes complete legalization and sale through pharmacies or licensed dispensaries.
Mexico: Open to change and hoping to follow Portugal’s example, the government is looking into decriminalization to put an end to drug cartels by allowing people to possess very small quantities of marijuana.
Colombia: Another nation aiming to fight the illegal drug trade. After the decriminalization of marijuana possession, medical marijuana was legalized in 2016; next on the cards is probable legalization for recreational marijuana.
Jamaica: Marijuana was decriminalized in small quantities in 2015 and in 2016 marijuana was legalized. Inspired by the booming prosperity of the industry in the US, there is a strong push to legalize recreational marijuana in the country.
France: Eliminating prison sentences for minor marijuana offences, liberal-leaning president Emmanuel Macron set the bar high with his positive approach towards the industry. Could legalization be next?
Spain: One of the biggest cultivators and consumers of cannabis in Europe, Spain is the topmost contender when it comes to predicting countries that could soon jump on the legalization bandwagon.
Czech Republic: Legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing recreational marijuana, Czech Republic is one of the topmost tourist attractions when it comes to cannabis enthusiasts.
Paraguay: The second largest producer of cannabis in the black market (after Mexico), Paraguayans are not allowed to cultivate for recreational purposes. After the legalization of medicinal marijuana allowing importing and growing for medicinal use, activists are fighting for the right to grow their own plants.
PHOTO CREDIT: By Coolcaesar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33969200