Cannabis Legalization Around the World

Cannabis has been utilized in Asia since the Neolithic age. In China, India, Japan and Korea, the hemp plant was a valuable material for making rope, clothes, shoes and paper. Eventually, cannabis became used as an aromatic medicine, and an important part of religious celebrations. And while we’ll never know for sure, it’s likely they were all ‘getting high’.

It wasn’t long before cannabis made its way to the Assyrians and the Greeks, and eventually to the Arab world, where it was used in rituals and for recreation. A type of cannabis resin, commonly known as hashish, was especially popular in the Persian and Arab cultures. Particularly in cultures where drinking alcohol wasn’t permitted, cannabis was a hit.


Early Prohibition

It’s hard to believe people have been using cannabis for thousands of years when you take a look at our history of prohibition here in North America. Cannabis dispensaries, edibles, and weed delivered to your door was a long way away…

Napoleon banned cannabis use among his soldiers at the end of the 18th century, and British Colonies began banning cannabis shortly after meeting it. Then in 1925, an agreement was made about the International Opium Convention, which banned exportation of “Indian hemp” to countries that had prohibited its use. Shortly after in 1937, the US passed the Marihuana Tax Act, prohibiting the production of hemp and cannabis, which eventually led to the ‘war on drugs’, the global campaign that kicked off in the 1970’s under President Nixon. At that point it was looking like recreational cannabis didn’t stand a chance.


The Netherlands

canal and boats in Netherlands

In 1972, the Dutch government began separating drugs into categories based on how dangerous they were to the public. Cannabis fell into the category labelled “less dangerous”. That initiative produced some of the first progress made towards cannabis legalization in the west. That same year, possession of under 30 grams of cannabis was downgraded to a misdemeanor. Four years later, recreational cannabis was available for purchase in special coffee shops. Fast forward to today, cannabis is still illegal but personal use is decriminalized and tolerated, while the coffee shops are booming.



yellow building in Portugal

Portugal was another country that made waves early on by decriminalizing all drugs in 2001. The production and sale were still illegal, but enforcement looked the other way when it came to personal consumption. This legislation was pivotal, because it prompted a handful of other countries to follow with the same decriminalization policy: Belgium (2003), Chile (2005), Brazil (2006) and Czech Republic (2010). While it’s still illegal to grow weed in Portugal, a piece of 2018 legislation allows pharmacies to give out medical cannabis.



city view of Montevideo, Uruguay

The small South American country of Uruguay broke ground in 2013 by becoming the first country, led by President Jose Mujica, to actually legalize recreational cannabis – the first country in the modern era to do so. Soon enough, the government allowed residents to grow their own plants at home, form growing clubs, and purchase cannabis from state-controlled dispensaries.



view of Vancouver, Canada

Canada was the next country to make a splash in the world of cannabis legalization. But like the US, the road to cannabis legalization in Canada was a rocky one, thanks to President Mulroney’s war on the “drug epidemic” in the 1980s and President Harper’s mandatory prison sentences for dealers.

However, in 2017 Canada’s liberal government led by President Trudeau, introduced the Cannabis Act with the support of 68% of Canadians. In 2018, the Cannabis Act was turned into national law, which legalized the possession, use, cultivation and purchase of cannabis. Two years later, a broader range of products were made legal such as edibles, vapes and beverages, which are available at both private and government run dispensaries.


United States

US Capitol building

Since 1970, being listed as a Schedule 1 substance, the use and possession of cannabis has been illegal in the United States. But this hasn’t stopped individual states from either decriminalizing weed, or legalizing it at the medical or recreational level. And thanks to the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, so long as you’re complying with state medical cannabis laws, you can’t be prosecuted at the federal level.

The US state of Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis in 1973. Now, you can legally possess up to 2 oz in public and 8 oz (!) at home. For reference, 8 oz is equivalent to about 225 large-sized pre-rolled joints. The US states of Washington, California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, new Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia have also joined in on the legalization party.

Some states allow legalization at the medical level only, and still pass out varying levels of punishment for recreational use. Other states have decriminalized cannabis. There are still a few remaining states where cannabis is fully illegal: Georgia (although the big cities have decriminalized), Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (although de facto legal in major cities), Wisconsin and Wyoming.


South Africa

beach and homes in South Africa

South Africa is another country that is in the process of legalizing cannabis, but the situation is a little different here than in Canada or Uruguay. In a 2018 Constitutional Court ruling, it was decided that adults could possess cannabis to consume in private. Consuming cannabis in the presence of non-consenting adults or children is not permitted. And while growing your own cannabis is no longer a criminal offense, it still technically isn’t legal. The 2020 Cannabis for Private Purposes bill includes all the details related to possession and cultivation, which is awaiting approval from parliament in order to be signed into law.



view of Malta and ocean

In 2018, the Maltese president George Vella signed legislation that allowed medical cannabis with a prescription, but it was a little unclear what conditions would allow for a prescription. But just three years later in 2021, Malta made history in the European Union by becoming the first country to legalize recreational cannabis.

Adults in Malta can now carry up to 7 grams of cannabis, while each household can grow up to four plants and store up to 50 grams of dried cannabis. You can even form a Cannabis Social Club, where you can cultivate further cannabis and distribute it to members. You just can’t light up in public spaces.


And Beyond

Around the world, countries are decriminalizing cannabis and working towards legalization for medical and recreational uses. In countries like Argentina, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Spain and many others, weed still isn’t legal but there’s a relaxed attitude toward consuming it. Even a country like Colombia, which has seen the worst of the drug trade, has decriminalized cannabis. Which country will be next to make the jump to legalization?


If you’re in the Fraser Valley or Vancouver area hoping to buy some perfectly legal recreational BC cannabis, Cheeky’s has you covered. We’ve got a location in Maple Ridge and Kitsilano, plus a super friendly staff to help you out.