The legality of cannabis—also called weed, pot, marijuana, and many other names—is a controversial subject. Although classed alongside drugs such as LSD by the US DEA, cannabis has proven medical benefits. It is an FDA-approved treatment for some forms of epilepsy, and mounting evidence suggests it can help reduce the side-effects of chemotherapy (pain, nausea) and manage afflictions including glaucoma, MS, Alzheimer's disease, and general pain or anxiety.
Cannabis is also highly valued by recreational users. Many advocates maintain that cannabis is less harmful and addictive than legal drugs such as alcoholic beverages and tobacco products and should therefore be legalized for recreational use. However, opponents believe that cannabis is a gateway drug that can lead to abuse of other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Globally, government leaders lean toward a conservative stance on cannabis, so it is still illegal in a majority of the world's UN-recognized countries. However, global support for both recreational and (more commonly) medicinal use of cannabis is growing.
Countries Where Recreational Cannabis is Illegal*
*Countries where cannabis is illegal, but decriminalized (therefore functionally legal), are excluded. However, countries such as Ghana, in which cannabis is technically legal, but is bound by regulations that make it functionally illegal, are included. (For full details, see the table further down this page.)
- Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Armenia, Australia (some territories), Azerbaijan
- Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi
- Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Cyprus
- Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic
- El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia
- Fiji, France
- Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Greenland, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana
- Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary
- Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Ivory Coast
- Japan, Jordan
- Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan
- Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania
- Macau, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique
- Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway
- Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines. Poland
- Romania, Russia, Rwanda
- Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Korea, South Sudan, Sudan, Suriname, Sweden, Syria
- Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Timor Leste, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu
- Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States (some states), Uzbekistan
- Vatican City, Venezuela
Explaining the difference between cannabis, marijuana, and hemp (as well as THC and CBD)
There is considerable confusion regarding the terms cannabis, marijuana, and hemp and how they differ from one another.
- Cannabis is the botanical name of a genus of plants, which is usually thought of as having three distinct species: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. However, the word "cannabis" is also used as a more polite synonym for marijuana. Both "hemp" and "marijuana" are types of cannabis.
- Marijuana is a general term used to describe cannabis plants (usually strains of C. sativa, but sometimes C. indica) that contain more than 0.3% (usually 10%-25%) of the compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight. Marijuana's recreational appeal stems from THC's psychoactive intoxicating effect when ingested. Use of the word "marijuana" is historically rooted in anti-Mexican racism and is viewed by many people as insensitive. As a result, the genus name, cannabis, has largely—and somewhat confusingly—replaced the term marijuana in most cases.
- Hemp is a general term used to describe C. sativa strains that have a THC content of less than 0.3% by dry weight. Because of its low THC content, hemp lacks the psychoactive effect of marijuana. However, hemp is high in the non-intoxicating compound Cannabidiol (CBD), which is used to treat ailments including epileptic seizures, anxiety, and depression. Hemp is also used for industrial purposes such as the manufacture of cloth or rope.
Illegal, legal, decriminalized, and industrial: deciphering cannabis laws
Cannabis is available in dozens of forms, from live plants to gummy candies, and its uses range from recreational intoxication to the manufacture of rope and fabric. Because cannabis has so many forms and functions, laws regulating its use can be remarkably complex, convoluted, and misleading, and may not always do what they initially appear to do.
For example, in some countries, cannabis is technically illegal, but has been decriminalized, which means the law carries little to no penalty for those caught breaking it (typically just a monetary fine rather than arrest or prosecution). So, while it may still be advisable to maintain a low profile while purchasing or ingesting cannabis-based products, getting caught in the act is unlikely to result in substantial legal complications.
On the other hand, a few countries that appear to have legalized cannabis have actually legalized only hemp-derived products with minimal THC (but ample CBD), or "industrial" cannabis (hemp again, typically for the manufacture of textiles). In these cases, it is unlikely that any legal form of cannabis will contain enough THC to have the effect recreational uses seek.
Countries with interesting cannabis laws:
The below list is a sample of countries with unusual laws regarding the legalization of cannabis. (For full details, see the table further down this page.)
- Cambodia — Illegal, but inconsistently enforced. "Happy" restaurants freely offer marijuana cooked into food or used as a garnish.
- Georgia — Technically legal but logistically impossible. Recreational possession and consumption are legal, but sales are not. Similarly, medical use of cannabis is legal, but no network exists to dispense it.
- Jamaica — Despite the country's reputation and culture, cannabis is technically illegal in Jamaica. However, it is highly decriminalized, as up to 2oz or cultivation of 5 plants is a petty offense. Also, Rastafarians can use cannabis for spiritual purposes.
- Netherlands — Illegal but decriminalized. Licensed coffee shops can freely sell up to 5g per customer per day.
- Slovenia — Possession of personal amounts is a misdemeanor. Medically, cannabis-based drugs were legalized in 2013 ... but cannabis itself was not.
- Spain — Illegal but decriminalized. Marijuana cannot be used publicly but hundreds of non-profit "cannabis social clubs" exist where members can partake freely.
- Zambia — Medical cultivation legalized in 2017, but requires a license—which the health minister publicly declared he would never grant.
Countries Where Recreational Marijuana is Legal
Marijuana laws are changing. As of 2022, approximately half of the world's countries have legalized some form of medical marijuana. Moreover, a growing number of countries are establishing legal guidelines for recreational marijuana use. Approximately 30 countries have decriminalized recreational cannabis, and roughly a dozen have specifically legalized it.
|Canada||Both THC and CBD cannabis products are heavily regulated in Canada, including their marketing and advertisements. For example, Canada does not permit celebrity endorsement of CBD products, and marketing cannot make CBD look "cool."|
|Georgia||Georgia was one of the first countries in the world to legalize recreational cannabis. However, while possession and consumption are legal, cannabis sales are still prohibited, so the industry as a whole remains largely underground.|
|India||Most forms of cannabis are illegal, but the edible processed form bhang is legal in many states and is sold in government-owned shops.|
|Malta||Malta was the first EU country to legalize recreational cannabis (in Dec. 2021). Users may possess up to 7g and cultivate up to 4 plants.|
|Mexico||Mexico's Supreme Court ordered the Congress of Mexico to legalize recreational cannabis within 30 days on 31 Oct. 2018. After legislators repeatedly failed to meet its deadlines, the Supreme Court itself officially legalized adult use of cannabis on 28 June 2021. However, lawmakers must still pass new laws to replace the old, unconstitutional ban.|
|South Africa||Like Georgia, legality here is not what it seems. Possession and consumption are legal, but selling cannabis is still outlawed, so there are no legal ways to purchase recreational or even medical cannabis.|
|Sri Lanka||Legal to purchase through traditional Ayurveda herbal shops. Cannabis is part of Sri Lankan culture and is part of many traditional medical treatments.|
|Thailand||Users may cultivate up to 6 plants for personal use. Oils and tinctures with more than 0.2% THC are still illegal unless prescribed.|
|United States||Legality varies by state. Some have robust legal dispensaries and a vast range of cannabis products available, and others have zero-tolerance policies.|
|Uruguay||Fully legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2013, becoming the first country in the world to do so. Cannabis is reportedly only available at pharmacies and requires registration, which is not available to tourists, but pharmacies still often sell out.|
Marijuana laws in the United States
In the United States, marijuana laws differ by state and run the full gamut from fully legal to completely prohibited. In many states, marijuana and cannabis products are legal for medical use but not yet for recreational use.
|Medical CBD only:||Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Wisconsin|
|Any medical, mixed recreational:||Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia|
|Any medical or recreational:||Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.|
|Prohibited:||Alabama, Idaho, Nebraska (decriminalized), North Carolina (decriminalized), South Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming|