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Legalised pot: a rarity around the world

Uruguay in 2013 became the first country in the world to legalise the production, distribution and consumption of marijuana

Rastafarians smoke cannabis outside the South African Constitutional Court on 18 September 2018 before the ruling on the private use marijuana is delivered. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

TORONTO – Canada is about to legalise recreational use of marijuana, which will make it the second nation in the world to do so after Uruguay more than five years ago.

While many countries have decriminalised the use and possession of the drug, abandoning prison sentences for consumers, just a handful have gone as far as to make it fully legal, including for medicinal purposes.

Here is an overview:

LATIN AMERICA

  • Uruguay in 2013 became the first country in the world to legalise the production, distribution and consumption of marijuana.

Under Uruguayan law, citizens and residents can buy up to 40 grammes (1.4 ounces) of pot a month from pharmacies, grow it themselves at home, or join cannabis clubs where members tend to the plants together.

The government has licensed two private companies to produce and distribute marijuana.

  • Several other Latin American countries have legalised cannabis for medicinal use: Chile in 2015, Colombia in 2016 and Argentina, Mexico and Peru in 2017.

NORTH AMERICA

  • US federal law prohibits the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana.

However, eight states and the national capital Washington, DC have legalised marijuana for recreational use, with the last to date, California, becoming on January 1, 2018, the biggest legal market in the world.

Twenty-nine states and the capital have legalised marijuana for medical use.

  • Canada will on 17 October become the first Group of Seven (G7) member and second country in the world to allow the recreational consumption of cannabis.

The legislation will limit personal possession to 30 grammes and four plants per household.

Graphic on estimated prevalence of marijuana use around the world.

EUROPE

  • The Netherlands in general, and Amsterdam in particular, have tolerated the sale and use of marijuana in iconic coffee shops since 1976.

That year the Dutch decriminalised the sale of small amounts of cannabis - less than five grammes - and allowed individuals to legally grow five plants each for personal use.

Dutch coffee shops generate hundreds of millions of euros in sales annually, and in major hubs such as Amsterdam, they have proven a major tourist draw.

In recent years, however, politicians have pushed back against these tolerant policies.

A controversial 2012 law bans the sale of marijuana to non-residents and tourists in three southern provinces.

The capital The Hague banned cannabis from the city centre in April this year.

But in July the Dutch government gave the green light to a wide-ranging experiment to allow up to 10 municipalities around the country to legally grow cannabis.

  • Spanish law allows for the private production and consumption of cannabis by adults, though its sale is still illegal.

  • The Czech Republic imposes only fines on people in possession of up to 15 grammes of marijuana or who have only five plants at home.

  • In July 2018, the Constitutional Court in Georgia abolished fines for using marijuana but stipulated that growing and selling it would remain an offence.

  • Several other European countries have legalised cannabis for certain medical purposes including Austria, Britain, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, Romania and Slovenia.

  • The French government has announced plans to soften penalties for cannabis use, swapping potential prison sentences for on-the-spot fines, but it remains opposed to legalising the substance.

SOUTH AFRICA

In September 2018, South Africa's top court ruled that private, personal cannabis use by adults was legal. The court ordered parliament to draft new laws within 24 months to reflect the order.

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