Countries Where Weed is Legal in 2023: Guide to Cannabis Law by Country
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko
International marijuana laws have little rhyme or reason. Some countries impose harsh penalties on those caught with weed, whereas others hold the status of “weed-legal country.”
Just as the U.S. is a confusing mishmash of laws, so is most of the world. Technically speaking, only Canada and Uruguay are the only countries legalizing weed at the federal level. However, nations like the Netherlands, which most think of as a weed-legalized country, often operate tolerance policies.
To help you understand where you can light up your preferred cannabis brand in 2023 and where you can’t, this guide will introduce you to the countries where weed is legal and tolerated.
A Brief History of the Global Legality of Marijuana
Before discussing “What countries is weed legal?” let’s discuss the legality of marijuana from a global point of view. It is known that marijuana use dates back over 3,000 years, with nations like China using it medicinally for an array of conditions.
For the most part, marijuana wasn’t an issue in many places. However, the global stance on marijuana prohibition originates from the 20th century. In particular, the League of Nations Opium Convention of 1925 was one of the first modern attempts at recognizing the need to control and prohibit marijuana.
Nations like Ireland made cannabis illegal in 1934, which was around the same time as the U.S. By the start of the 1950s, most countries had strict controls in place. These prohibitions often resulted from direct international pressure from countries like the U.S.
The history of marijuana legality also results from confusion, with the UN’s Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961 even classifying hemp as a narcotic. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that this stance began to shift.
Changes in the U.S., Canada, and Europe challenged the conventional wisdom on whether marijuana should be illegal, which has resulted in one of the largest growing legal cannabis markets in the world.
Countries in North, South & Central America Where Weed is Legal
Technically speaking, Canada and Uruguay are the only countries that have legalized all forms of cannabis at the federal level. However, some states have chosen to legalize medicinal weed or have opted to decriminalize weed.
Let’s list the legal countries for weed in the Americas to help you prepare for your next trip.
Canada is one of the best weed-friendly countries in the world, enabling anyone to buy, possess, and consume cannabis. This is also one of the few places in the world where you can fly domestically with your weed stash.
While not the first country to legalize weed, it boasts one of the largest and most sophisticated cannabis markets on the planet.
The United States retains its existing federal prohibition on marijuana. Currently, the U.S. classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
However, each state is free to ignore the federal prohibition by creating its own marijuana program. Today, most states have legalized marijuana in some form, with nearly half permitting recreational use.
As it stands, 37 states have medical marijuana programs in America.
Photo by Brandon Nickerson
Countries legalize weed rarely in the middle of a drug war, but Mexico is an exception. While formal legalization has stalled, de-facto legalization does exist. Possession of up to five grams was decriminalized in 2009, and medicinal use was legalized in 2016.
In 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized the private recreational use of marijuana, with full legalization expected soon. If it goes ahead, this could make it one of the most popular weed-legal countries for tourists in the Americas.
Argentina became one of the first countries where weed is legal in 2017 when it legalized medical marijuana for patients with certain qualifying conditions. It also became the only country in the world to offer medical marijuana to patients for free.
In 2022, the government decriminalized small amounts of cannabis for personal use. However, recreational cannabis remains illegal.
Belize decided to decriminalize personal weed usage in 2021, acknowledging the potential benefits of cannabis. This has led to a relaxation of attitudes toward weed in the country.
Note that while it has become a friendly, laidback place for cannabis enthusiasts, you still cannot buy cannabis from your local grocery store.
Colombia has long been a well-known recreational drug haven, but it may surprise you that this is one of the countries where marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes. This South American nation also decriminalized up to 22 grams of weed for personal use, allowing you to grow up to 20 plants at home.
Costa Rica is an ever-popular vacation destination known for the “Pura Vida” lifestyle. However, Costa Rica decriminalized recreational smoking like its Central American compatriot Belize.
Even though it’s still illegal, the police are uninterested in smokers but will actively pursue traffickers.
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Looking for weed legal in countries can be fraught with difficulty, but Chile is one place you don’t have to worry about. While cultivation, transportation, and sale remain illegal, the country has examined its approach to cannabis prohibition recently.
At-home consumption in private homes is allowed, contributing to Chile being a leader in the country. It’s also one of the countries that smoke the most weed, with the highest per-capita cannabis use rate in Latin America.
Ecuador has made significant strides to transform its approach to cannabis. Personal use was decriminalized in 2019, up to 10 grams, and the government authorized several cannabis-based products and industrial hemp production.
These progressive policies are a massive departure from Ecuador’s previously notoriously strict stance on cannabis.
Jamaica is a long-time haven for smokers. If you asked, “What countries is weed legal?” most would say Jamaica, but it may surprise you to learn that it has only been decriminalized since 2015.
Naturally, little has changed in practice due to the presence of Rastafarianism. However, tourists now know they can possess up to five ounces without worrying about the policy. Also, if you’re Rastafarian, you can carry and use unlimited amounts.
All Jamaicans can grow up to five plants for personal use.
Uruguay is not just one of the first countries weed is legal in. It is the first country to legalize weed. It made headlines in 2014 when it passed its landmark law to legalize the use, sale, and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Sadly, tourists are banned from buying weed legally, meaning visitors will need an Uruguayan friend to buy on their behalf.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk
Countries in Europe Where Weed is Legal
Strictly speaking, there are no countries in Europe where recreational weed is legal. While some countries operate a tolerance policy, permit cannabis for medical purposes, or are exploring changes to the law, you won’t find a European nation where you’re free to light up wherever, whenever.
So, let’s explore the countries where weed is legal and tolerated.
Decriminalization for personal use has been in effect since 2010, but weed remains illegal in the Czech Republic.
However, the Czech Republic became the first European Union (EU) country to increase its permitted THC limits found in hemp products to 1%. It’s led many observers to suspect that the Czech Republic could become a country where weed is legal.
The tiny landlocked European nation took the first step to cannabis legalization, enabling people to grow up to four plants at home.
The law also permits people to consume weed at home, with small fines replacing criminal proceedings for public possession and consumption.
Malta became the first European country to legalize recreational cannabis and use in 2021. However, the Parliament of Malta didn’t open the doors to weed tourism.
Coffee shops and dispensaries remain illegal, meaning visitors will need to have local friends to access the legal cannabis trade.
In what countries is weed legal? If you said the Netherlands, you’d be wrong. The Netherlands operates a tolerance policy, enabling anyone to buy, possess, and consume weed. Despite this, no move toward full legalization has been made recently.
For all intents and purposes, this may not be one of the European countries where weed is legal, but it’s as good as.
Portugal decided to take the unprecedented step of decriminalizing all drugs in 2001. It remains illegal to import and sell cannabis. Also, home cultivation remains illegal.
However, it’s rare for any ordinary user to be bothered by law enforcement in the country, essentially offering a tolerance policy similar to the Netherlands.
In Spain, you cannot possess or consume cannabis in public places, but it’s permitted to have up to 100 grams of cannabis for personal use.
Looking up cannabis law by country for Spain is confusing because different regions are taking unique stances on cannabis. In many locations, such as the Canary Islands, you can legally buy cannabis from so-called cannabis clubs as long as you’re a member.
Photo by Road Ahead
Countries in Asia, Africa & the Middle East Where Weed is Legal
These three parts of the world typically make up most of the countries where weed is illegal, with some countries opting for long prison sentences and even the death penalty for some cannabis-related crimes.
Note that some of the countries where CBD is legal but not THC won’t feature on this list.
Israel is one country where recreational marijuana legalization could be on the cards. It’s a long time coming among Asian countries where weed is legal because Israel led the way on medical weed legalization.
Since the 1990s, Israel has allowed medical cannabis use for pain-related illnesses.
Recreational cannabis use remains illegal in Lesotho, but it’s highly tolerated. Most of the tiny African country’s plants are mostly hidden, even though cultivation has been permitted since 2008.
However, the legislation required a license from the health ministry, meaning that most growers prefer to operate underground.
Growing plants, consuming cannabis, and storing cannabis in a private home have been permitted for a few years. Does this make it one of the countries in Africa where weed is legal? Technically, yes, but there is no commercial market as of yet.
The law allows for private consumption of cannabis products, while public consumption and purchasing weed remains a criminal offense.
Thailand stunned the world in 2022 when it opened its Amsterdam-style coffee shops. Anyone can buy and consume marijuana in the Land of Smiles.
However, some rules remain for smoking marijuana, such as within a certain distance of schools and playgrounds.
FAQs About Weed Legal Countries
What was the first country to legalize weed?
Uruguay was the first country to legalize weed for recreational and medicinal purposes in 2014. However, the country still prevents tourists from purchasing marijuana.
Where does weed grow in the wild?
Weed grows in the wild across many parts of North America, South America, Africa, and Asia. In countries like Nepal, it can be found casually growing at the side of the road.
What country has the best weed?
Many people want to discuss what countries weed is legal in and which country has the best weed. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but many cannabis enthusiasts rave about weed from British Colombia, California, and the Netherlands.
In what countries is CBD legal?
CBD is legal in most countries. In many cases, CBD operates in a grey area, with no laws banning or permitting it.
However, like checking what countries is marijuana legal in, tread carefully with CBD, as some countries treat CBD like an illegal drug.
Can tourists purchase marijuana in countries where it’s legal?
It depends. When deciding which countries legalize weed, you must figure out whether somewhere allows you to buy it.
The Netherlands, parts of the U.S., and Canada allow tourists to buy weed, whereas nations like Uruguay don’t.
How much marijuana can I possess in countries where it’s legal?
Again, it depends on which countries legalize weed and their laws. Some may allow for possession of as little as a couple of grams, whereas others may allow up to 100 grams.
You also need to check whether possession is allowed in public places.
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This article has been reviewed by Dr. Anand Dugar, an anesthesiologist, pain medicine physician and the founder of Green Health Docs. Graduating from medical school in 2004 and residency in 2008, Dr. Dugar has been a licensed physician for almost 20 years and has been leading the push for medical cannabis nationwide.