Marijuana reform is an idea rapidly sweeping the globe, an idea that has caught the attention of governments, celebrities, and healthcare providers alike. But for all the talk, decriminalization is surprisingly rare around the world.
Substantial reform is found in three primary places: the United States, Portugal, and the Netherlands. Canada is likely to join them soon, possibly along with Mexico.
Cannabis is loosely tolerated in many other places, but it is only legally permitted to any degree in these three places. Portugal has removed criminal penalties for all drugs; Holland has done the same for marijuana; and several U.S. jurisdictions have decriminalized or completely legalized the drug.
The Portuguese have taken one of the world’s most progressive approaches to drug use. Personal possession of any drug in small amounts is decriminalized, meaning no jail, probation, or criminal record.
In fact, police there don’t even issue tickets or levy fines. Instead, users are treated as patients and immediately directed to healthcare resources.
With marijuana, possession of up to 25 grams – about a 10-day supply on average – is legally tolerated. Larger amounts may trigger criminal charges, but simple possession carries no jail time or fines.
For all the reform, however, cannabis remains scarce in Portugal. It is a crime to sell or grow it in any amount, and the few black market coffee shops are seedy at best.
Results of this national experiment have mostly been positive. Fewer people are dying from heroin and other dangerous drugs, teens are using less, and more addicts have entered treatment.
Many stoners would be surprised to learn that simple cannabis possession is still a crime in Holland. Possession of up to 5 grams usually doesn’t lead to anything more serious than a fine, but larger amounts can trigger prosecution.
Beyond that, though, the Netherlands has an official policy of tolerance, especially in Amsterdam. This is what allows licensed marijuana cafes to flourish there.
Opponents of reform have tried in recent years to ban marijuana tourism, but their legislation has stalled. Even with decriminalization, users are limited to purchases of 5 grams or less, while adults may grow up five plants at home.
The United States
Four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for any adult use. More than a dozen other states have removed criminal penalties for cannabis, as in Portugal, and more than 30 permit the drug as medicine.
But pot possession remains a crime under federal law, a fact that will make it more difficult for other states to legalize. And until they do, the United States will be a patchwork of conflicting rules.
But the laws that allow cannabis in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia are the most liberal in the world. In all these places it is possible to buy marijuana at retail stores, though Washington State bars home grows. These states each allow up to 1 ounce, while Washington, D.C., allows up to 57 grams.
In the states where the drug is legal, adults may use it on private property but not in public. In other states, penalties for possession range from small fines to jail time.