In 1936, the film Reefer Madness depicted the terrible consequences of just a single toke of marijuana; a psychotic rampage that can only end in murder, suicide, or lifelong incarceration. Well, we better be ready for a whole lotta killer sex rampages in the near-future. Pot is starting to become big business. Multiple states and countries are relaxing their anti-weed laws, and 4 a.m. pizza orders are about to hit an all-time high.
But even as the heavy fog of prohibition lifts on the green fog of legalization, pot is still a niche pursuit. Draconian laws mean it’s still painfully illegal in many parts of the world, and very few nations tolerate it the way they do alcohol. So, where can you legally hold that Big Lebowski smoke-a-long you’ve been planning? Try any of the following 10 countries.
10. India (some states)
If you thought Rastafarians liked to spend their spare time getting baked, you should check out some branches of Hinduism. In parts of India, cannabis is considered a gift from Lord Shiva, who supposedly once chilled out after a family argument by eating a ton of the stuff. As a result, various forms of getting high have been around for centuries. The most popular of all is probably bhang, made from the leaves and turned into a milkshake, which is either the best or worst idea for a McDonald’s product anyone has ever had.
Thanks to its religious connotations, Bhang has long been tolerated in parts of India, even during the darkest days of global prohibition. But some states haven’t just stopped at Bhang. In cities like Varanasi and states like Odisha, cannabis is effectively decriminalized. You can buy ganja from state-sponsored shops in the former, while in the latter it is so openly used that local politician Tathagata Satpathy once took to Twitter to explain how to score some. Weed is also decriminalized in Gujurat and recently became totally legal in Goa.
Despite this, cannabis remains illegal at a Federal level in India, although Satpathy and other green-fingered politicians are hoping to change this.
9. Australia (some states and territories)
The guys down under have been at the forefront of medical marijuana since a mass-legalization of cultivating weed came through in 2016. However, this article is about personal use, and the new law specifically didn’t give any Tom, Dick, or Sheila the right to start growing in their backyard. But fear not, lovable Aussie stoners. While pot may very well be illegal, it has been decriminalized in three areas: specifically, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory.
This might not sound like much, but when you consider Australia only has 6 states and 2 territories, it starts to look pretty impressive. And, thanks to the distribution of Australia’s various regions, it effectively means there’s a big fat line right down the middle of the country, stretching for thousands of miles, where it’s totally cool to get baked.
In some cases, decriminalization goes up to some fairly hefty amounts. South Australia considers it a non-criminal offense to be caught with 100 grams of pot. The Northern and Capital Territories let you keep two non-hydroponic plants each.
8. The United States (some states)
Eight states out of 50. That’s where the legalization of recreational marijuana stands in the good ol’ USA (plus Washington, DC). Pretty much all of these have come to pass because voters get a say on these issues, and have plumped to put pot on a level with alcohol. But that doesn’t mean the state legislatures are onboard with it. In some states, the legal pot crusade is still being played out after legalization has supposedly happened.
Massachusetts is a good example. After weed became legal in December 2016, plans were put in place to install a regulatory framework by January 2018. But GOP lawmakers nixed it, and now summer 2018 will probably see the first pot dispensaries open. Meanwhile, in Oregon, cannabis laws are left up to local government. That means that what’s legal on the coast is often super-illegal out in mountain country.
Nonetheless, the US is still teetering towards full legalization. Colorado, California, and Washington State have recreational dispensaries, while Nevada is working on making pot into a pastime to rival their other institutionalized vices of gambling and prostitution.
7. The Czech Republic
A quick dip into the Library of Congress’s website tells us that the Czech Republic (also known as Czechia to people who love terrible names) is the only former Soviet country to have reduced the Eastern bloc’s harsh drug use penalties. They don’t mean slightly, either. Since its mutual divorce from Slovakia in 1993, Czech Republic has had fairly liberal pot laws. In 2010, they liberalized even further. Fast forward to today, and getting high is so routine that many barmen in Prague will happily sell you some chronic along with your beer.
Before you go galivanting off to Bohemia (or, indeed, Moravia), a quick reality check. Marijuana is still illegal in the Czech Republic, with only “small amounts” for personal use being decriminalized. Since the law doesn’t specify what a small amount is, it’s up to cops, bouncers, and courts to decide on a case-by-case basis. Luckily, almost everyone seems to have decided it’s code for “sensible amounts for personal use, provided the stoner in question isn’t being a total jerk with it and annoying everybody.”
6. The Netherlands
Here’s something you might not know about pot and the Netherlands. Actually, two somethings. One is that weed is totally illegal over there. The other is that coffeeshops are legally required to only sell to Dutch citizens. “But wait,” we hear you cry, “my bro Chester totally got baked in Amsterdam last spring break, yo.” Well, for that, he should seriously be thanking Eberhard van der Laan. Mayor of Amsterdam since 2010, it was van der Laan’s public spat with the government that led to implementing the citizenship requirement being made optional. Amsterdam, predictably, chose not to enforce it.
The upshot is that getting high is de-facto legal for the Dutch in the whole country, and legal for tourists in Amsterdam. Stray outside of the capital with only your American or British passport, and you’ll need official papers to purchase the herb; papers you probably don’t stand a cat in heck’s chance of getting. Not that this is a problem for the vast majority of visitors. Every year, Amsterdam receives over 1.5 million cannabis tourists, equivalent to over half the city’s metro population. Most of them barely leave their favorite coffeeshop, never mind leaving the city.
Talk about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. While Germany started 2017 by legalizing medical marijuana and paving the way for weed sales in pharmacies, it still considers pot illegal, and transporting or distributing it can see you hit with a fine or even a prison sentence.
So what on God’s green, green Earth is it doing all the way down here at number five? Well, there’s an interesting answer to that one. See, weed may be illegal in Germany, but consumption of it isn’t. The reason? Germany considers smoking (or eating) cannabis to be an act of monumental self-harm. And, since German law doesn’t legislate against acts of self-harm, that means smoking dope is no more illegal, and far more pleasant, than slashing your arms while listening to Joy Division.
The actual amounts considered to come under “personal use” vary wildly by state. The average is 6 grams, but Berlin will let you get away with carrying a hefty 15 grams. For those who are caught with higher amounts, the courts generally focus on rehabilitation and treatment rather than custodial sentences.
4. South Africa
Ask most Americans to name the greatest government document ever produced, and they’ll probably answer with the US Constitution. For a small number of stateside potheads, though, the South African constitution may well hold more allure. That’s because in 2017, the Western Cape High Court ruled that making marijuana illegal was unconstitutional. Their ruling effectively legalized cannabis for personal use within the home.
But don’t go racing to Pretoria with your bong in tow just yet. The ruling came in March 2017. As a result, things are still moving at a lightning-fast pace, and may yet change once again. For one, the (fittingly named, for these purposes) High Court could be overturned by the Constitutional Court. For another, the High Court ruling gave the government a two year grace period to rewrite the statutes, a period of time in which the old laws technically still apply. Finally, just a week ago on July 31, a prosecution case against a weed-smoking couple started, during which the judge is expected to rule on the legality of marijuana prohibition. Things may well be looking up for South African herb smokers, or the tide may yet turn again in prohibition’s favor.
Spain is less a country than it is a collection of autonomous provinces, at least two of which actively want to be out of even this loose confederation. Still, there are some things all 17 regions agree on, one of which is the pressing need to do absolutely nothing about their citizens getting high. Growing small amounts, smoking in private, and selling cannabis seeds are all legal in every single region. On top of that, most regions also allow Cannabis Clubs, where members presumably don velvet smoking jackets, then proceed to blaze the ever-loving God outta their pooled supply.
But there’s one region where even this super hands-off approach is considered the height of nanny state intervention. Catalonia – the region of which Barcelona is the capital – officially legalized pot completely on June 30, 2017, although anyone wanting to get high will still need to prove they’re a member of a cannabis club, a move effectively meant to discourage Amsterdam-style cannabis tourism. Of course, this is assuming Spain’s constitutional court doesn’t strike Catalonia’s full legalization down, or that Catalonia doesn’t unilaterally declare independence and force us to rewrite this whole darn list (sigh).
When many Americans hear the word ‘Colombia’, they immediately think of three things: violence, Escobar, and drugs. While Pablo Escobar may be long dead, the other two are certainly still a part of Colombian society. But in the case of ‘drugs’, maybe not in the way you’re thinking. After a 2012 vote in Congress, Colombia completely decriminalized growing, buying, and smoking marijuana. You can now carry 22 grams of pot, or own 20 plants without the Man hassling you. Even crazier, you can’t be prosecuted for carrying over 22 grams, provided you can reasonably prove its for your personal use. Whoever the Colombian Cheech and Chong are, we’re guessing they’re still celebrating.
It’s not just decriminalization where Colombia has embraced the plant, either. The government has been investing heavily in medical marijuana since 2016. Rather than set up new cannabis fields to satisfy demands, they’ve just started buying pot off the peasants who used to sell it to the recently-disarmed drug pedaling Marxist rebel group FARC. There’s even a group of vocal senators who want to completely legalize pot in the same way as alcohol. But no country would ever go that far, right? Right?
This is it. The only country on Earth where pot is completely legal in every region; where there are no penalties for possession or cultivation or buying; and where the state itself has started growing and selling its own varieties of weed. Yes, Uruguay is the heaven all good stoners go to when they die, a tiny Latin American nation around the size of Florida, where the food is good, the living standards high, and the cannabis flows freely. You can smoke in public, buy grass over the counter, and the government is your dealer. Whoa.
The story of how Uruguay got here is the stuff legends are made of. In 2011, police raided the apartment of 66-year-old grandma Alicia Castilla, confiscated her cannabis plants, and threw her in prison. The idea of locking up a granny over something as harmless as pot shocked Uruguayan society, sparking protests, petitions and outrage in the press. The government responded by totally legalizing cannabis in 2014. Castilla was released, the case against her dropped. By 2017, Uruguay had even begun selling the stuff in government-run stores.
For the visiting tourist, though, it’s actually harder to get legally high in Montevideo than it is in Amsterdam. This is because Uruguay currently only sells to Uruguayan citizens who have registered with the government. So maybe don’t cancel those flights to Holland just yet.