Cannabis consumers are booking flights and packing suitcases in preparation for summer travel. Is cannabis legal in the country you’re traveling to? Chances are, if you’re a foreigner, the answer is probably a resounding no.
Most cannabis regulations are written for the citizens of a country and not its visitors. With just a few exceptions, regardless of whether you’re a patient with a medical marijuana recommendation or a recreational cannabis consumer wanting to sample the local wares during your vacation, the penalties for travelers found violating drug laws in other countries can be severe.
Here’s a guide to give you a brief overview of how cannabis legalization is moving forward around the world. Prepare for some surprises.
Canada: Canada is moving toward becoming the next country after Uruguay to legalize recreational cannabis. But recent developments [pushed back the date for adult-use cannabis sales](https://www.thecannabist.co/2018/02/16/candada-marijuana-legalization-delayed/99298/. It’s expected that Canadians will be able to purchase recreational marijuana by late summer, but like states in the U.S., cannabis regulations will vary from one province to another.
Mexico: In 2017, Mexico decriminalized marijuana for medical use only. Mexico also allows for personal possession of six grams of cannabis.
In January, the country’s tourism secretary recommended that marijuana be legalized, starting with resort areas. But it may be years before Mexican citizens support legalization.
Belgium: Belgium has had an on-and-off relationship with cannabis, but medical cannabis is currently legal. The country has a unique social club system that provides medical marijuana to patients.
The Czech Republic: The Czech Republic authorized use of medical cannabis in 2013, but patients are challenged to find a physician who will write a marijuana prescription or a pharmacy that will fill it. That said, Czech hemp producers are creating huge quantities of cannabis-infused products, making them a world leader in that industry.
**Germany: ** Germany now allows medical marijuana patients to obtain prescription cannabis. The country’s police groups are also pushing to see all forms of cannabis decriminalized.
Greece: Looking to boost its economy after a disastrous debt crisis, Greece approved the cultivating of medical cannabis. In the near future, medical cannabis will be available and distributed through pharmacies.
Italy: Once one of the world’s largest hemp producers, Italy has seen a revival of hemp production, which has resulted in the legalization of medical cannabis in 2007. Cannabis Light or low-THC cannabis is skyrocketing in popularity. Another piece of the Italian cannabis landscape is medical marijuana, which is grown by the military and distributed to pharmacies.
Malta: This year Malta became the next country in the European Union to approve medical cannabis. Though there are restrictions on which health conditions cannabis can be prescribed for and how it can be used, this represents a landmark decision for a country that’s known for its social conservatism.
The Netherlands: Famously, The Netherlands allows legal cannabis consumption in coffee shops and possession of no more than 5 gm of the plant. But surprisingly, crackdowns on cannabis shops catering to tourists have resulted in stricter laws. Growing marijuana in the country is strictly prohibited.
Portugal: Portugal was the world’s first country to decriminalize all drugs. That said, a bill to legalize cannabis medicines and allow patients to grow their own plants is considered by advocates as the next step for the forward-thinking country.
Spain: Spain decriminalized marijuana possession and private consumption of cannabis, but cannabis sales are still illegal. Creative cannabis entrepreneurs created private clubs for Spanish citizens, giving Spain the reputation as “the new Amsterdam.”
Switzerland: In 2011, Switzerland legalized low-THC cannabis. Now, the country has jumped into growing low-THC flowers and oral cannabis preparations. Efforts to relax stringent laws for recreational cannabis may be coming soon.
United Kingdom: Perhaps surprisingly, the U.K. is the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis for medical and scientific use. This is mostly to manufacture Sativex, the cannabis-based drug used to treat multiple sclerosis.
Ironically, every other form of cannabis is illegal. But Brits are watching legal countries like Canada and Portugal and may be ready to look at marijuana legalization in the near future.
Croatia: Croatia was the first Balkan country to legalize medical cannabis. But like other countries, getting cannabis to patients is challenging. What’s unique about Croatia is its measured, scientific approach to the issues.
Russia: The big news out of Russia, and of interest to soccer fans worldwide, is that it’s allowing medical marijuana patients attending this summer’s FIFA World Cup to bring cannabis into the country. Prescriptions and documentation must accompany your supply. The surprise ruling applies to several other drugs as well.
Colombia: Back in the 1970s, illegal Colombian marijuana was highly coveted. Now, medical cannabis is legal for domestic use and export. Dozens of companies are expected to turn out their first legal marijuana harvests in the next few weeks.
Costa Rica: Costa Rica has taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward cannabis. But a recent discovery of marijuana in the luggage of an NFL player traveling to Costa Rica resulted in the athlete being denied entry into the country.
Many assume Costa Rica has extremely relaxed laws and attitudes when it comes to marijuana. Though the reality is that personal drug use is generally not treated as a crime, cultivation and distribution of amounts larger than for personal consumption are.
Ecuador: Another Latin American country that decriminalized marijuana is Ecuador. Personal cannabis use is tolerated, and residents may possess 10 gm. Growing and selling marijuana is prohibited.
Peru: Peru took a huge step last year by legalizing medical marijuana. Patients may sell, transport and possess, but not grow medical cannabis. The details of patient access and the types of medicine that will be available to patients are still being discussed by lawmakers.
Uruguay: Famously, Uruguay was the first country in the world where cannabis was legal to grow and consume. Each week, Uruguyans may purchase up to 10 gm of cannabis from pharmacies. Home growers must register with the government to grow a maximum of six plants.
By setting prices below the black market rate, the Uruguayan government hopes to hamstring the illicit market and provide a better drug policy model for the world.
Jamaica: Despite its legendary status as ground-zero of Rastafarian culture, which considers cannabis use as sacred, Jamaica came late to the world’s marijuana party. You may be surprised to learn that Jamaica only decriminalized the plant in 2015.
Now, the poverty-stricken nation is ready to cash in on its legacy. Jamaican citizens may now grow and sell cannabis to locals and tourists.
Iran: Noted for its repressive drug policies, Iran has taken a surprisingly relaxed attitude toward cannabis. Though it’s illegal to possess or sell cannabis in Iran, observers feel the government’s focus on more dangerous addictive drugs has created a niche for a thriving cannabis culture.
Israel: Israel has become a powerhouse when it comes to research on medical cannabis and exporting medical cannabis to other countries. In March, a proposal to decriminalize cannabis was introduced, which if passed will impose a fine for smoking marijuana instead of prison time. As long as the United States continues to keep cannabis federally regulated at the Schedule 1 level, Israel will continue to make strides as the leader in cannabis research.
African nations grow a staggering amount of cannabis; this includes Morocco, long a prime producer for hashish. Lesotho is the next country to approve a limited medical marijuana program. With powerful economic incentives pressuring lawmakers, it’s expected more countries like South Africa may move toward marijuana decriminalization in the future.
Australia: Like so many other nations looking to cash in on the demand for cannabis, Australia has legalized overseas exports of medical marijuana products. Growing or possessing cannabis is illegal in all but two territories. However, activists hope that the time has come for rethinking the country’s restrictive policies.
India: India has one of the planet’s longest relationship’s with cannabis. This year, some members of parliament are pushing toward legalizing medical marijuana. Ayurvedic medicine companies are jumping into cannabis manufacturing, and it’s expected that a regulated medical marijuana market is on the horizon.
Nepal: Like India, Nepal is famed for its cannabis and hash production. Although the government tends to turn a blind eye to a person possessing a small amount of cannabis, it’s still illegal to possess, grow or consume the plant.
North Korea: North Korea’s global isolation has resulted in a strange relationship to cannabis. The plant isn’t categorized as a drug and is sold to Chinese tourists who take it over the border for resale.
But is it legal? Experts say no. They surmise—because it’s hard to get much concrete information out of the Hermit Kingdom—that what’s being sold is probably closer to industrial hemp than THC-laden flower.
Cannabis experts agree the plant is still illegal in every way in a number of countries. This list includes: Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, France, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.
When you travel, remember that you’re subject to the local cannabis laws at your destination. So, look them up before you go, and abide by them to ensure you’ll have a great trip.
Photo credit: Artem Bali