Most countries, including the United States, are parties to a collection of international drug control treaties—the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances—which require signatories to outlaw the manufacture, distribution, and possession of certain controlled substances (like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis). These treaties are enforced on an international level through the United Nation’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which, as you can imagine, isn’t too thrilled with countries legalizing cannabis.
Despite the INCB’s misplaced objections, many countries have begun liberalizing their cannabis laws. The result is a patchwork of laws, much like you see on a state-by-state basis here in the United States. For example, in North Korea—one of the most oppressive countries on earth—cannabis is 100% legal. In Indonesia, on the other hand, cannabis possession is punishable by death. Most countries, including the United States, fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Despite the United States’ legalization movement generating the most media attention , many other countries are far ahead of the United States in terms of cannabis laws and policy.
Israel has been at the forefront of cannabinoid research and has operated a medical program since 2007. Uruguay is experimenting with a combination of home grow and a government monopoly model of taxing and regulating sales; it plans to issue commercial growing licenses within the year. Chile is taking a more measured approach, recently harvesting first crop of cannabis under a pilot program serving approximately 200 patients. By contrast, Canada’s medical cannabis program serves approximately 40,000 patients, who can purchase their medicine through Amazon.com-style online marketplaces. The Netherlands has had legal cannabis for quite some time.
Other countries are one-by-one loosening up on cannabis prohibition. Australia will likely be planting its first medical marijuana crop soon (which it could export internationally), and a legalization bill is currently pending and gaining momentum in its Parliament. Jamaica has made big moves this year by decriminalizing cannabis and moving forward with government-sanctioned research programs, in an attempt to set the stage for full-scale commercialization. Many other countries have opted out of commercialized cannabis, but nonetheless have decriminalized possession in small amounts.
State-by-state and country-by-country, the cannabis legalization movement is truly an international movement and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s why we will in the future be writing more often on developments in cannabis law outside of the United States, mostly by taking in-depth looks at countries that have, are, or will be changing their cannabis laws. Please stay tuned.