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The Global Spread of Legal Cannabis

With so much attention on recent cannabis legalizations around the world, we tend to gloss over the fact that cannabis has actually been legal in numerous regions for the majority of its history.

Nevertheless, the past few generations were born in a time of prohibition, and it’s been a significant experience to witness the changing legal status of cannabis across the globe.

Let’s look back at the recent history of cannabis legalization, beginning with Uruguay and pausing with South Korea. Note that different regions have implemented varying levels of legalization and decriminalization. This historical timeline highlights landmark legalizations for medical and personal use.


Uruguay — Legalized

In 2013, Uruguay made history as the first nation to legalize cannabis cultivation, distribution, and consumption. Thereafter, people over the age of 18 could purchase up to 40 grams (1.5 ounces) each month from a licensed pharmacy.

Czech Republic — Medically Legalized

Medical cannabis was legalized in the Czech Republic in 2013, but only if prescribed by a specialized medical professional. This does not include general practitioners. Both growing and importing cannabis was made subject to proper licensing. The recreational use of small amounts of cannabis products is still subject to a misdemeanor with a monetary fine.

Italy — Medically Legalized

At the time of medical legalization in Italy, cannabis was to be imported from the Netherlands and sold exclusively through authorized pharmacies for patients with valid prescriptions. However, high import costs led the Italian government to shift strategies. Now, the army is responsible for medical cannabis cultivation and distribution. Cannabis for personal use is another story in Italy. As of 2016, it became legal to sell industrial hemp flowers, but not to consume them.


Alaska — Legalized

Cannabis has a long history in Alaska. In 1975, small amounts were legalized strictly for in-home, personal use. In 1998, cannabis was legalized for medical use. With 2014 came recreational legalization for people over 21 years of age, but a grey zone of regulations followed.

Chile – Medically legalized

Chile made the choice to legalize medical cannabis in 2014 primarily to provide cancer patients with a natural source of pain-relief. It also permitted the importation of cannabis for medical use.


Jamaica – Medically Legalized

Medical, scientific, and therapeutic uses of cannabis were legalized under a licensing regime in Jamaica in 2015. Eligible citizens can apply for a license based on their desire to study, cultivate, process, transport, or sell cannabis. Registered medical professionals can prescribe cannabis for health conditions if they find it favourable. Personal amounts, 57 grams (2 ounces), were decriminalized in this year as well.

Puerto Rico – Medically Legalized

Medical cannabis was legalized for qualifying conditions in Puerto Rico in 2015. Patients can possess a 30-day supply, but only of non-smokable preparations. Access to medical cannabis is controlled by state dispensaries.

Colombia – Medically Legalized

While medical cannabis in Colombia previously fell into a legal grey zone lacking regulations, that changed with full medical legalization in 2015. Now, cultivators need to apply for a license through the National Narcotics Council.


Western Australia — Medically Legalized

Since 2016, Western Australians have been able to legally access medical cannabis through a pharmacist after receiving prescription from an authorized specialist. Cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes was also legalized, but adheres to a licensing regime.

Macedonia — Medically Legalized

The medical legalization in Macedonia in 2016 acknowledges a distinction between low-cannabinoid cannabis oil and high-cannabinoid cannabis oil. Patients can access cannabis oil with less than 0.2 percent cannabinoids without a prescription, but anything above that must be prescribed by medical specialists.

Turkey — Medically Legalized

In nineteen provinces, Turkey legalized cannabis cultivation, but only for medical and scientific purposes. The process is highly-regulated by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Livestock. 


Germany – Medically Legalized

Since medical legalization in 2017, cannabis in Germany can be obtained by patients with a prescription from their doctor. Initially supplying patients with imported cannabis from Canada, Germany has been planning to develop and regulate their own medical cannabis cultivation process.

Mexico – Medically Legalized

While Mexico legalized medical cannabis in 2017, they did so with certain stipulations. Patients can only legally access and consume cannabis derivatives like oils and capsules, containing less than one percent THC. These products are regulated by the Ministry of Health.  


Canada – Legalized

While Canada legalized medical cannabis through authorized prescriptions and a licensing program back in 2001, the entire country saw full recreational legalization in 2018. However, each province and territory has its own legislations and regulations regarding cultivation and distribution.

South Korea — Medically Legalized

South Korea is the first East Asian nation to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, but there’s one caveat: It has to be CBD-derived and void of the psychoactive effects from THC. The Korean Orphan Drug Center is in control of strictly regulating the market.