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In recent history, cannabis has primarily been classified as a prohibited and illegal substance in many countries around the world. However, with changing public sentiment toward cannabis, additional research on its effects, including its medicinal properties, and potential tax revenue implications, governments are reevaluating their bans on the substance.
Now, in 2017, marijuana is legal for medicinal use in over 20 countries around the world, and there are a growing number of countries that are making efforts to legalize it for recreational purposes. As cannabis legalization continues to be a hotly debated issue around the world, let’s take a look at five countries, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Uruguay, and India, to review their cannabis regulations and the legal landscape so far.
The United States of America has classified cannabis as a Schedule I substance that is illegal at the federal level since the 1960s, but well over 20 states and the District of Columbia have now passed legislation allowing for medicinal and industrial uses due to the therapeutic properties found in modern research.
Currently, 18 states have decriminalized low-THC, high-CBD products. Additionally, since 2012, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have all passed legislation legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.
With 53% of Americans now supporting cannabis legalization, up from 35% in 2015, there is a pronounced shift in the overall view of cannabis and the ability to consume it for medicinal and recreational purposes. Currently, each state regulates cannabis with its own unique guidelines for possession, sales, transportation, and cultivation.
It’s worth noting that technically the sale and use of cannabis is still prohibited due to its illegal status at the federal level; however, the U.S. government is not currently enforcing federal law and leaving regulation to the states.
The first state to pass cannabis legislation to legalize the substance for medicinal use was California in 1996. The first states to pass cannabis legislation to legalize the substance for recreational use were Colorado and Washington in 2012. It is very likely that the trend toward legalization will continue at the state level for both medicinal and recreational use.
Canadians, on the other hand, are on their way to fully legalizing cannabis. Prime Minister Trudeau has proposed legislation to legalize cannabis for recreational use, with the intent of allowing legal marijuana sales by July 1, 2018. The main focus of Trudeau’s push to legalize cannabis is to reduce access to underage users, disrupt the black market for marijuana, and reap the benefits of federal oversight and taxation.
The Liquor Control Board will run dispensaries and control distribution, but Trudeau may allow for micro-cultivation sites for Canadians to participate in the growing phase of the process. With the new legislation, the opportunity to customize these laws for specific provinces will be granted, which is similar to the model being used with the United States. For example; Quebec may not allow people to cultivate marijuana plants, and places such as Alberta may have a 25%+ tax rate.
Upon legalization, citizens over the age of 18 will be able to cultivate and consume marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, carry up to one ounce freely, and store an unlimited amount in their household. The unclear storage amount has brought about concern for the children in these homes that decide to cultivate, due to this “harmful” plant being closer than ever in unlimited amounts.
Another primary concern is that you can only consume cannabis on your private property, meaning you could be forced to use cannabis while there are youth around. It will be illegal to consume elsewhere. While legalization is well on its way, provincial governments are scrambling to set up the framework to operate and regulate legal marijuana, which have some leaders calling for a delay on the legalization enactment date. While there are still some unknowns, it will only be a matter of time before legal cannabis sales begin in Canada.
Amsterdam may be the pot capital of the world, but cannabis is still technically illegal. In spite of this, authorities have chosen – mostly – to turn a blind eye. This is mainly due to the fact that the Netherlands have categorized substances as soft drugs and hard drugs, with cannabis falling into the soft drug category.
The Netherlands essentially tolerates the use of marijuana, small personal possession (up to 5 grams), and cultivation of up to five plants. The Dutch are also the pioneers of cannabis coffee shops.
While still prompted to stay under the radar, these low-key hangouts allow for the consumption of cannabis away from home, while out of the view of the public eye. While still technically illegal under Dutch law, these coffee shops are allowed to operate so long as they follow the set rules, such as age and advertising restrictions, sale and storage caps ( 5 grams per person/500 in storage), as well as being a “good” neighbor by not causing problems.
A “Weed Pass” was proposed and implemented to restrict coffee shop access to locals only and stop tourists from consuming cannabis. Even though this policy went into effect in 2012, it got scrapped in April of that year. Amsterdam went as far as banning the “Weed Pass” to ensure they still got a consistent flow of tourists through their coffee shop businesses.
You may have heard that Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize cannabis in 2013 under then president José “Pepe” Mujica; however, commercial production did not begin until the beginning of 2017. It took Uruguay four years to implement these new laws due to the lack of pharmacies wanting to carry the product and additional challenges from citizens and politicians.
In September of 2014, just shortly after legalization, newly elected president, Tabaré Vàzquez, who is surprisingly an oncologist, was not in favor of cannabis legalization but would not stand in its way. Tabaré Vàzquez publically stated that “There’s going to be a strict and close evaluation of the effect on society of this law.”
The most controversial aspect of the law, the sale of state-controlled marijuana to registered consumers at pharmacies, started in 2017. Registered Uruguayans now have two available cannabis options from pharmacies; Alpha-1, a Sativa dominant flower, and Beta-1, an Indica dominant flower. Due to fingerprint recognition systems in these dispensaries, citizens are tracked and limited on the amount of cannabis they can purchase or consume, which has also eliminated any cannabis tourism.
With only 5,000 citizens who have signed up to purchase from these dispensaries, it seems the popular option was for self-cultivation – Uruguayans can grow up to six plants – with 7,000 sign-ups. The legislation also allowed for the creation of “marijuana clubs,” allowing for 99 plants annually per group.
Cannabis is a native species in India, which has been consumed in the country as early as 2000 B.C. Known mainly in the forms of bhang; a strong cannabis drink consisting of leaves, stems, and seeds and charas; pressed flower to retrieve only the trichomes of said plant, also known as rosin. Government licensed stores are selling these forms of cannabis concentrates to date.
Cannabis is also known as one of the flowers used in the Hindu religion to help one focus and speak to Shiva, the Hindu deities (gods/goddesses). It is also acceptable for persons to smoke ganja on Shiva Ratri, a religious holiday.
Although cannabis is illegal in India, a few members of India have brought the idea of legalizing cannabis to parliament many times now. A recent call for legalization has resulted in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research obtaining a license to cultivate cannabis to perform studies for the treatment of severe medical side effects for epilepsy and chemotherapy.
The latest attempt has been introduced from a private members bill for the legalization of cannabis, in November of this year.
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