Where in the World is Cannabis Legal?

Author: Toni Allen | Last update: Feb 5, 2024

Which countries and states have legalized cannabis, and which are the most likely to do so in the near future? Find out here.

Recreational marijuana use is completely legal and regulated nationally in only a few countries:

  • Uruguay (2013)
  • Canada (2018)
  • Malta (2021)
  • Thailand (2022)

But, there are also many countries where cannabis use has been decriminalized or mostly legal such as Jamaica, South Africa, Georgia, Mexico and the Netherlands. And, in the United States there are now 24 states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Cannabis Legality By Country

This guide tracks legislation and provides easy-to-digest facts, timelines, and FAQs to help demystify the complicated legal status of cannabis in the USA and around the world. Keep reading or use the table of contents to jump to a specific country or question you are looking for.

United States of America

In the United States, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level — but many individual states have passed medicinal and/or recreational marijuana laws.

Cannabis legality USA map 2024
Map Source: Wikipedia

Which states have legalized marijuana in the United States?

Recreational cannabis is now legal in 24 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Plus DC, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

More states are expected to pass recreational legislation in the next few years.

Here’s a timeline of when each state legalized recreational marijuana:

  • Colorado: Legalized in 2012
  • Washington: Legalized in 2012
  • DC: Legalized in 2014
  • Alaska: Legalized 2014
  • Oregon: Legalized in 2014 (In 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize access to magic mushrooms)
  • California: Legalized in 2016
  • Maine: Legalized in 2016
  • Massachusetts: Legalized in 2016
  • Nevada: Legalized in 2016
  • Michigan: Legalized in 2018
  • Illinois: Legalized in 2019
  • Arizona: Legalized in 2020
  • Montana: Legalized in 2020
  • New Jersey: Legalized in 2020
  • Vermont: Legalized in 2020
  • Connecticut: Legalized in 2021
  • New Mexico: Legalized in 2021
  • New York: Legalized in 2021
  • Virginia: Legalized in 2021
  • Rhode Island: Legalized in 2022
  • Maryland: Legalized in 2022
  • Missouri: Legalized in 2022
  • Delaware: Legalized in 2023
  • Minnesota: Legalized in 2023
  • Ohio: Legalized in 2023

Additionally, cannabis is decriminalized in North Carolina, Delaware, Rhode Island, Nebraska, Mississippi, and New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Medical Cannabis in the United States

The medical use of cannabis is legal in 40 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

This leaves only 10 states where cannabis is NOT legal for medical purposes: Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

CBD and hemp are legal on national level with the 2018 Farm Bill. CBD products are widely available.

Which states will legalize recreational marijuana next? New Hampshire is likely to legalize this year (2023) or next. Other states with adult-use legislation in the works include Kansas, Ohio and Oklahoma.

Canada

The recreational use of marijuana has been legal in Canada since October 17, 2018, when it was signed into legislation under the Trudeau government.

The Cannabis Act is the national legal framework of Canadian Cannabis regulations for consuming, growing, producing; while the individual Provinces & municipalities control retail and local bylaws.

Canada & CBD products – something important to note about Canada vs US is that CBD products are regulated strictly in Canada (more like medicine) vs in the United States. In the US, celebrities like Tommy Chong and Martha Stewart have their own CBD brands, and you can buy every form of CBD imaginable from corner stores. But in Canada, CBD products are only available from licensed dispensaries and much rarer overall.

Also, Canada has much stricter cannabis advertising & marketing guidelines: no celebrity endorsements, no logos, no making any cannabis product seem cool. (Canada’s tobacco marketing laws are also very strict).

For more info about Canadian cannabis regulations and how they affect businesses, see our guide on starting a cannabis business in Canada.

Uruguay

Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize recreational cannabis use. President Jose Mujica signed legislation that legalized recreational cannabis in December 2013.

Author’s note: I spent time in Uruguay in 2019 and did some first-hand research into how Uruguay regulates recreational cannabis. Cannabis is not easy to purchase legally compared to Canada or legal US States.

In Uruguay, It’s sold at pharmacies, requires registration (easy, but not available to tourists), and the pharmacies are often sold out. However, if available it is cheap. I was told that the pharmacies, in general have two kinds available sold like “regular” vs “medical”.

The grey market is still the main source of recreational cannabis in Uruguay.

Georgia

In 2018, the Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled in favor of legalizing cannabis, making Georgia one of the first countries in the world to do so. As a result of the ruling, possession and consumption of cannabis is now legal in the country.

Georgia is the only former-communist state to have taken this step. However, cultivation and sale of cannabis is still illegal, and active debates are underway regarding the commercialization of marijuana in the country.

Thailand

Thailand’s legalization of cannabis on June 9, 2022 resulted in sweeping changes in the way it is perceived and utilized. Possession, cultivation, distribution, consumption, and sales are legal.

Over 1.13 million citizens registered to legally grow cannabis, while 3,600 dispensaries opened their doors within the first year of legalization.

Jamaica

Jamaica is commonly associated with marijuana, but the country didn’t decriminalize weed until 2015. Although cannabis is still illegal, possession under 2 ounces for personal use is decriminalized (though small fines might be issued). Medical marijuana is available and Rastafarians are allowed to possess and use marijuana for religious ceremonies.

Europe

European countries have varying laws concerning marijuana.

In 2021, Malta became the first (and currently the only) EU member country to legalize recreational marijuana. And it is now legal to possess and grow limited quantities for personal use. However, there is no commercial market allowed like there is in Canada or Thailand.

In the Netherlands, people have been selling marijuana in coffee shops since the 1970s. Marijuana use is decriminalized, but citizens must not cause a disturbance while under the influence, and businesses can not sell more than five grams of marijuana to a customer at a time.

Marijuana laws are relaxed in Portugal, and those who are charged with marijuana possession more than once will likely receive rehab instead of jail time.

In Spain, individuals can not use marijuana in public without being fined. Most people in Spain who use marijuana do so privately, and have formed social clubs as a way to avoid using marijuana in public.

France has strict but changing marijuana laws. People who are caught consuming marijuana could receive spot fines, might be required to take a drug awareness class and could spend up to a year in prison (though jail time is rare). However, France is also piloting a medical cannabis program giving patients free marijuana.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Germany since 2017. Individuals who are unauthorized to possess or use marijuana are not likely to face jail time if they only have a small amount.

Which Countries Will Legalize Next?

Which Countries Will Legalize Weed Next? South Africa, Mexico, and Israel are the most likely choices according to a High Times article. However, Switzerland should be added to that list – as they have been trialing a recreational marijuana program. And Israel has had some setbacks to legalization.

Here’s more details these countries rumored to most likely places to legalize recreational marijuana next…

Switzerland

Since 2012, possession of 10 g or less is decriminalized to a fine — and in recent years have been making strides towards more robust legalization.

Switzerland officially launched a trial version of a legal recreational marijuana market on May 15, 2021. This made Switzerland the first European country to allow a legal adult-use cannabis supply chain. Details of trial here.

Mexico

As of June 2021, cannabis is decriminalized for private, recreational use in Mexico. While some count Mexico as a “legalized country”, there is still no legal / regulated market.

Previously, Mexico decriminalized private consumption and possession for small amounts of marijuana (5 grams or less), and medical low-THC / CBD cannabis is has been legal as of 2017. And 2018, Mexico’s supreme court ruled the prohibition of unconstitutional.

Overall — the laws are confusing in Mexico, and likely will be in flux over the next few years. (sources: Wikipedia, Mexicanist)

United Kingdom

Considered a Class B drug, cannabis is illegal to possess, grow, sell, or distribute in the UK. The maximum penalty for possession is 5 years in prison and unlimited fines. Penalties for unlicensed dealing, production, and trafficking could mean up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

While cannabis is illegal, medical cannabis has had growing support in the UK over the last decade. Medical-use with licensing has been permitted since Nov. 2018.

CBD is legal for use and sale in the UK, without a prescription (as long as it’s not marketed as medicine).

Israel

Starting from April 1, 2019, adults aged 18 and above in Israel are allowed to use cannabis in private without facing any criminal charges. However, if an adult is caught in public with a small amount of cannabis, they could be fined about $275 for the first offence and $550 if it happens a second time.

Decriminalization does not cover minors, soldiers, or those with criminal records. Activists are still lobbying for complete legalization.

Countries with Most Restrictive Cannabis Laws

The following countries have the most strict laws regarding cannabis use, where even small amounts are punishable by jail time (or worse).

  • Malaysia – Strict cannabis laws. Residents who are found with 200 grams or more of marijuana may receive the death penalty.
  • United Arab Emirates – Even small amounts subject to jail time.
  • Indonesia – Illegal. Possession is subject to a minimum sentence of four years in prison.
  • Japan – THC is completely illegal, and use and possession are punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine.
  • Singapore – Illegal and strictly enforced. Trafficking cannabis is punishable by death.
  • Saudi Arabia – Use and possession for personal use of any kind of recreational drugs is punishable by imprisonment if caught.

Malaysia arguably has the strictest cannabis laws. Residents who are found with 200 grams or more of marijuana may receive the death penalty.

Singapore has very strict marijuana laws, as well. Citizens and visitors are not even allowed to chew gum there. According to Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, the burden of proof is the responsibility of the defendant. Anyone caught with weed in the country will most likely be penalized.

In the United Arab Emirates, you could face up to four years in prison authorities find even a trace of marijuana on your person or property.

Countries with Most Permissive Cannabis Laws

The countries with the most permissive cannabis laws include Canada, Uruguay, Thailand, South Africa, Georgia, Jamaica, Switzerland and Mexico. The following details these countries which have passed regulations to legalize or decriminalize recreational cannabis use.

  • Canada – Cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational purposes, with production and sales regulated by the government.
  • Uruguay – First country to fully legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
  • Thailand – Legalized cannabis on June 9, 2022. Possession, cultivation, distribution, and sales are legal and regulated.
  • South Africa – Private use and private cultivation decriminalized since 2018.
  • Jamaica – Decriminalized since 2015, and in 2018 the first medical cannabis dispensary opened.
  • Switzerland – Decriminalized recreationally & medically legal. Additionally, a trial version of a legal recreational marijuana market was launched in May 2021.
  • Georgia – Legal for possession and consumption both recreationally and medically, but illegal for sale.
  • Mexico – As of June 2021, cannabis is legal for private, recreational use in Mexico.

FAQ

In which countries is recreational cannabis legal?

Recreational cannabis use is legal or decriminalized in Uruguay, Canada, South Africa, Georgia, Malta, Mexico, Thailand, and the Netherlands. In the United States, while still illegal on a national-level, recreational marijuana use is legal in 24 states, decriminalized in a handful, and most states allow some form of medicinal use. (hemp, CBD and non-THC marijuana products are legal in the USA since 2018.)

Where is medicinal cannabis legal?

Beyond Uruguay, Canada, South Africa and Georgia — there are a few dozen countries that allow cannabis for medicinal purposes: Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Which US states have legalized weed?

States that have passed recreational cannabis legislation include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Plus DC, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

It’s important to note that marijuana remains an illegal substance federally in the United States.

When will cannabis be federally legal in the USA?

Although the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act), which decriminalizes cannabis and expunges non-violent cannabis convictions was passed by the House on Dec 4, 2020 — the majority Republican Senate is not expected to pass the bill.

However, this is the closest the United States has ever been to decriminalizing marijuana on a national level, and cannabis advocates are hopeful for 2024.

Is cannabis legal in Japan?

While CBD products are legal and growing in popularity, THC is still 100% illegal in Japan. Under Japan’s Cannabis Control Act, cannabis possession can result in up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $18,000.

Is cannabis legal in Australia?

In Australia – medical use of cannabis is legal, and recreational use mostly decriminalized. In 2019, the Australian Capital Territory legalized recreational use of cannabis. Like the United States — regions in Australia have their own local cannabis legislation.

Conclusion and Further Reading

Cannabis laws are rapidly changing, and although this page updated regularly, please reach out (comment below or email) and let me know if I’ve missed something. Thanks!

Sources

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Toni Allen
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    3 thoughts on “Where in the World is Cannabis Legal?”

    1. Need help to pay for a barrister I live in tasmania Australia I had to grow some cannabis for oil as I have stage 4 lung cancer.
      The opioids are killing me and they will jail me for it in tasmania.
      Tasmania is the only state that medical cannabis is illegal in.

      Reply
      • Cannabis illegality is against the UN convention against torture so many conditions it is a first rate medicine, healer

        Reply

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