The Legal Status of Cannabis Around the World: What You Need to Know

The Legal Status of Cannabis Around the World: What You Need to Know | Earthy Select

Cannabis, once widely prohibited, has seen significant changes in its legal status globally. As societal attitudes shift, an increasing number of countries have revisited their marijuana laws and reconsidered both the medical and recreational use of the cannabis plant [1]. Thus, understanding the diverse legal landscapes and regulatory frameworks is crucial for anyone interested in the evolving status of cannabis worldwide or those traveling to various locations. This article explores the legal status of cannabis worldwide, highlighting evolving policies and attitudes regarding its use.

Historical context of cannabis

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. However, the early 20th century saw a shift towards prohibition, with many countries enacting strict laws against its use, cultivation, and distribution. For instance, in 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively criminalizing marijuana in the United States. Then, in 1970 Congress classified cannabis as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal at the federal level. Despite these restrictions, the tide began to turn in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as the wellness benefits of cannabis became more widely accepted [2].

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Current legal status of cannabis in North America

United States

Currently, the legal status of cannabis varies significantly between states. Although cannabis remains a controlled substance under federal law, some states have legalized recreational and/or medical marijuana; others have legalized medical marijuana. For example, California, Colorado, and Oregon, among other states, allow both recreational and medical marijuana. Likewise, states like California have established comprehensive regulatory frameworks permitting the cultivation of up to six plants for personal use. However, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illicit drug, and federal prosecutors can enforce federal crime statutes related to cannabis in other, less lenient states [3]. Of course hemp is federally compliant cannabis under the recent US Farm Bills, and it is defined as cannabis containing no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.  One exciting development from hemp is the family of THCa flower and THCa concentrate products, which capture the potential effects classic cannabis in a federally legal and natural product.

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Recreational marijuana became legalized nationwide in Canada in 2018. Conveniently, the regulatory framework allows adults to possess and grow cannabis plants. Medical cannabis dispensaries are widespread, and the government strictly regulates the cannabis trade to ensure public health and safety [4].


Mexico recently decriminalized cannabis possession of cannabis and is in the process of establishing a legal framework for recreational use. Also, the country has legalized medical marijuana, allowing for the regulated use of cannabis and cannabinoid drugs for medicinal purposes [5].

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Current legal status of cannabis in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania

South America


Uruguay was the first country to legalize recreational cannabis in 2013. Additionally, the law allows residents to grow up to six plants and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries. Notably, the government regulates the entire supply chain to prevent illicit trade [6].

Brazil and Argentina

These countries have made strides in legalizing medical cannabis. For example, in Brazil, medical patients can access cannabis oil and other products for certain medical conditions [7]. Also, Argentina has decriminalized cannabis for medical use and allows for the cultivation of cannabis plants for personal medicinal purposes [8].



Many people associate the Netherlands with its tolerant stance on cannabis. While not fully legalized, cannabis smoking is de facto decriminalized. As fabled, licensed “coffeeshops” can sell small amounts of recreational cannabis. Both residents and tourists enjoy this establishment. To its credit, the country continues to refine its policies to better regulate cannabis and reduce illicit activities [9].


Germany has legalized medical cannabis and is moving towards legalizing recreational marijuana. Recently, the legislature approved a medical program allowing the use of cannabis medications for severe epilepsy and other conditions. As cannabis becomes more accepted, the country seeks broader legalization measures regarding recreational cannabis [10].



Thailand recently legalized medical cannabis, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. However, authorities have planned to re-impose restrictions. However, the government ultimately aims to establish a regulated system to provide medical marijuana to patients with accepted medical use conditions [11].


India has a long history of traditional cannabis use, but modern laws are strict. While medical cannabis research is ongoing, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes remains illegal. However, many activists promote its legalization [12].


South Africa

In South Africa, cannabis was decriminalized for personal use in 2018. Also, the Constitutional Court ruled that adults can grow and use cannabis in private. The government has initiated a framework to regulate cannabis use and address public health concerns [13].


Lesotho is a pioneer in Africa for cannabis cultivation. Indeed, the country has embraced the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes, aiming to become a significant player in the global cannabis market [14].



Australia has established a medical cannabis framework, allowing patients with certain conditions to access cannabis products. However, state laws vary, with some states restricting cannabis possession and use. Even so, the country has begun to explore the potential for legalizing recreational cannabis [15].

New Zealand

In 2020, New Zealand held a referendum on legalizing recreational marijuana. Although the ballot measure was narrowly defeated, the country continues to support medical cannabis and may revisit legalization efforts in the future [16].

Factors influencing legalization

Several factors influence the move towards cannabis legalization, including:

  • Public opinion and societal attitudes: Growing support for cannabis use, both recreational and medical, drives legislative changes.
  • Economic benefits: Legalizing cannabis can generate significant tax revenue and create jobs in the cannabis industry.
  • Medical research: Increasing evidence of the benefits of medical cannabis for conditions like severe epilepsy influences policy changes [17].

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Impact of legalization

Legalizing cannabis has far-reaching impacts:

  • Economic impact: Legal cannabis markets boost economies through job creation, tax revenue, and reduced law enforcement costs [18].
  • Social and cultural effects: Changing attitudes towards cannabis use and reducing stigma associated with cannabis offenses [19].
  • Health and public safety: Balancing the benefits of medical use with the need to prevent cannabis use disorder and other health issues [20].
  • Law enforcement: Shifting focus from prosecuting cannabis offenses to regulating the industry and clearing criminal records related to cannabis [21].

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The future of cannabis legalization

The future of cannabis legalization looks promising, with several trends emerging:

  • Increasing legalization: More countries may legalize marijuana, both for medical and recreational use.
  • Regulatory evolution: Nations may continue to refine their regulatory frameworks to address public health, safety, and economic considerations.
  • Influence of international organizations: Global entities like the United Nations may play a role in shaping cannabis policies.

Countries to watch include Germany and Mexico [10] [5], which are on the brink of significant policy changes. As the global landscape evolves, staying informed about the legal status of cannabis is essential for understanding its impact on society.

Key takeaway: legal status of cannabis around the world

The legal status of cannabis is rapidly changing worldwide. From the pioneering efforts in Uruguay and Canada to the cautious steps in Asia and Africa, the move towards legalization reflects shifting societal attitudes. Understanding these diverse legal landscapes is crucial as we navigate the evolving world of cannabis use and regulation.

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Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up-to-date, but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis are evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.


  1. From Underground Legacy To Legal Industry: The Global Shift In Cannabis
  2. A Brief Global History of the War on Cannabis
  3. Marijuana Legality by State
  4. Cannabis in Canada
  5. Mexico Remains Hazy on Cannabis Legalization – Le Monde
  6. Cannabis in Uruguay: Laws, Use, History
  7. Cannabis in Brazil
  8. Cannabis in Argentina
  9. Cannabis in the Netherlands
  10. Cannabis Partially Decriminalized in Germany
  11. Marijuana Was Supposed to Help Thailand. Why Is the Country Planning to Ban it Again?
  12. Legalization of Recreational Cannabis: Is India Ready for it?
  13. The Legalization of Cannabis in South Africa
  14. Envisaging Challenges for the Emerging Medicinal Cannabis Sector in Lesotho
  15. A State-by-State Guide to Cannabis in Australia (Updated 2024)
  16. Cannabis in New Zealand
  17. Social and Political Factors Associated With State-Level Legalization of Cannabis
  18. The Economic Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana
  19. Marijuana Matters: Will Legalization Reduce Weed’s Stigma?
  20. Assessing the Public Health Impacts of Legalizing Recreational Cannabis Legalization
  21. Marijuana Law Reform
  22. Where Is Cannabis Legal In Europe? A Guide To The Latest Policy Changes

Frequently Asked Questions

Cannabis in the form of hemp is federally compliant, ie. legal in the United States, but not legal in every state in the US. Cannabis in the form of marijuana is federally illegal, but legal in some US states. Federal prosecutors can still enforce federal cannabis laws [3].

Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize recreational cannabis in 2013. In Uruguay, the law allows residents to grow up to six plants and purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries, with the government regulating the entire supply chain [6].

Yes, medical cannabis can be accessed legally in several European countries. For example, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy, among others, have legalized medical cannabis, allowing patients to obtain cannabis products for various medical conditions. However, the specific regulations and availability vary by country [22].