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A Guide To Medical Marijuana Legalization Around The World: Where Cannabis Is Legal And Where It Is Illegal

It is tempting to think of medical cannabis as being “legal” in the U.S., but this is not the case. Yes, certain states have medical marijuana/cannabis programs, but at the federal level, cannabis is illegal and a Schedule I drug. This means that cannabis is considered to have “no medical value”, and therefore cannot be “prescribed” in any fashion. Sadly, this status means that research on the plant is restricted, which in turn makes it extremely difficult to get information on dosing, which cannabinoid-terpenoid profiles are best for a particular condition and how cannabis may react with other medications.

Restriction sign.
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Where Cannabis Is Legal In The Rest of the World

Yet, despite these problems, forward-thinking scientists, doctors and patients the world over are finding ways of trying to figure out solutions to such concerns. Unsurprisingly, countries that have legal medical cannabis programs tend to be at the forefront of research. Two countries stand out in particular in this regard: Israel and the Czech Republic. In Israel, medical cannabis is legal, although recreational use is illegal.

Medicinal cannabis use is also legal in the Czech Republic, with possession of small amounts being considered a “misdemeanor”. The Netherlands also stands out, due to the country’s role in the development of many of today’s cannabis strains and its lenient stance towards cannabis use (although it’s still technically “illegal” outside of licensed coffee shops)..

There are also many other countries where medical cannabis is legal, including: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Finland (under licence), Germany, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico (with a maximum THC of 1%), Norway, Panama, Poland, Romania, San Marino, Switzerland, Turkey, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Places That Have Some Cannabinoid-based Prescription Medications

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France and the United Kingdom have some cannabinoid-based medications available on prescription. Spain has legalized cannabis consumption in private areas, and there are some cannabinoid-based medications available upon prescription, but cannabis is still illegal in public areas. As for the UK, cases like Alfie Dingley’s and Billy Caldwell’s could help establish an official medical cannabis program. When this will happen, we do not know, but it is part of our work to advocate for patients everywhere and to try and speed this process up wherever possible.

Places Where Cannabis Is Decriminalized

There are also some countries where cannabis is illegal, both medically and recreationally, but where cannabis is “tolerated” or decriminalized to some extent, depending upon state, region, local customs and amount of cannabis the person possesses. These countries include Albania, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, India, Nepal (legal during Maha Shivaratri only; may be tolerated by some communities in Nepal), Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In some instances, the law may be poorly enforced or treated as an administrative or health rather than legal issue, but punishment is still an option. As for North Korea, nobody knows too much about how the state treats cannabis. Some say it’s illegal, others say nobody in the country even treats the plant as a “drug”.

Legalized Cannabis

When it comes to “recreational” use, there are few countries in the world that have fully “recreationally legal” status. Many people think of Netherlands as one such place, but as stated above, cannabis is merely “tolerated” rather than legal per sé. Technically, the only state where cannabis is legal on a federal level is Uruguay, and even then those who are not citizens of Uruguay are prohibited from buying cannabis. Canada has passed legislation to legalize cannabis federally this year, with provinces and territories being left to decide how they will distribute it.

Uruguay flag.
Uruguay – other than Canada, the only country where cannabis is federally legal.

As for the United States, cannabis is legal both recreationally and medically in the following states:

Cannabis is legal for medical use only in the following states and territories. We also list states where they have limits on the type of cannabinoid products that are legal:

  • Alabama (non-psychoactive CBD oil only)
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Delaware (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Florida (with a THC limit of 0.8%)
  • Georgia (CBD oil with THC of less than 5% only)
  • Guam
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Indiana (CBD oil for patients with epilepsy only)
  • Maryland (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Mississippi (CBD oil only; non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Missouri (CBD oil only; non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico (decriminalized in Albuquerque only)
  • New York (non-medical possession decriminalized, unless in public view)
  • North Carolina (CBD oil only; non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • Oklahoma (CBD oil only)
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island (non-medical possession decriminalized)
  • South Carolina (cannabis oil with less than 0.9% THC only)
  • Tennessee (cannabis oil with less than 0.9% THC only)
  • Texas (CBD oil only)
  • Utah (only for terminally ill patients, and those with epilepsy have access to CBD)
  • Virginia (cannabis oil with THC of less than 5% only)
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin (CBD oil only)
  • Wyoming (CBD oil only)

Cannabis is legal both medically and recreationally (no recreational sales) in Washington, D.C., although cannabis is not legal on federal land.

Change Ahead.
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Author: Amman Wahab Nizamani

How much will change over the next several years is anyone’s guess. We could even approach a situation where all 50 states have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, yet is still considered federally illegal. As for the rest of the world, the evidence for establishing a well-regulated medical cannabis program is generally positive.

Let’s just hope governments the world over see sense and science, and allow for proper research into seeing how and in what way this unique plant can work for various conditions, with no demonization of any particular cannabinoid. Doing so could help usher in a new wave of very safe pharmaceutical medications for some very difficult-to-treat conditions.

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