When Uruguay legalised cannabis for recreational purposes in 2013, it was difficult to imagine that five and a half years later, a G8 nation like Canada would be taking the next step in this direction. Anyone who follows these global developments will be in little doubt that more countries will follow in the foreseeable future. But which ones will that be? Below is a cursory list of the most likely candidates.
The USA’s southern neighbour could soon pass a law that would regulate growing and selling as early as mid-2019. Following a ground-breaking decision by the Supreme Court on October 31, the future President announced that cannabis would be legalised. Whilst the judge had merely declared that the penalties for small-scale consumption, possession and growing offences were illegal, on November 8, Senator Olga Sanchez from the future governing party PRI said the following:
“We need to reassess our country’s drugs policy. It is time to make changes, because this has already been a controversial topic for some time now. In our country, the armed war on drugs has simply resulted in an even greater number of deaths. We are not in favour of deregulating all drugs, but of the regulation of cannabis. […] That will help significantly in creating peace in our beloved country,” explained Sanchez when the bill was presented at the senate in Mexico.
The senator presented a legislative proposal which already provides detailed regulations for the planned start of selling cannabis products to adults. Sanchez’s 75-page draft bill would allow all adults to grow up to 20 of the currently illegal plants and to harvest up to 480 grams per year for personal consumption. Edibles, however, will remain prohibited.
2. The Netherlands
Despite the large numbers of coffee shops, cannabis remains illegal in the Netherlands. Almost 50 years of tolerance, not to mention almost two decades of conservative government policy, have allowed the niches for cannabis fans to shrink further and further. Yet because neither regulation nor the closure of shops seems to be politically enforceable, the government coalition has at least announced that from 2019 it will legalise some coffee shops on a trial basis as part of a pilot project. If the pilot project is a success, the Netherlands could then legally enforce the status quo that has applied for decades during this legislation period, or at least draft a law for this.
In Switzerland, active voices and political factions have been contesting the illegal status of cannabis since the nineteen nineties. The first municipalities applied for trial cannabis projects as early as 2004, but these were regularly refused by the federal government. Increasing numbers of cities and municipalities have argued for the development of such projects since 2014, and since the end of 2017 this has also been supported by the federal government. With the Experimentieartikel in September 2018, the parliament adopted a legal basis which, as in the Netherlands, will enable scientifically monitored and locally restricted cannabis pilot projects to be carried out from 2019. Furthermore, following the failed hemp initiative in 2008, a new referendum has been planned, but the date is yet to be set.
In the parliament, there is already a calculated majority for the regulated dispensation of cannabis. However, the so-called “Jamaica coalition” with the SPD, the Greens and the FDP collapsed during the autumn 2017 negotiations. With the legalisation of cannabis as a medicine and its own growing programme, the issue was soon destigmatised in the media and in society. Even in conservative circles, a regulated market is no longer a taboo. Canadian investors, who already dominate the medicinal cannabis market, already have a major interest in the European domestic market for recreational users.
This Caribbean island has been famous for its high-grade ganja for over fifty years. Since 2015, there has been a law governing medicinal use and a rapidly growing cannabis industry. It is an open secret that the government only failed to regulate cannabis for recreational use for so long because of the rigid stance of the USA. If, after Canada, Mexico also legalises cannabis unhindered by the USA, Jamaica will not have to wait too long and will be able to officially encourage cannabis tourism.
Recently there has been increasing information relating to forthcoming legalisation in South Africa. However, the constitutional court there has simply decided that laws restricting personal use are unconstitutional. The government now has two years in which to decriminalise growth and consumption. Legalisation is not conceivable in the foreseeable future.
However, a more relaxed cannabis policy in South Africa could have consequences on a small neighbouring country. Lesotho is traditionally the biggest cannabis producer in the region and, unlike South Africa, has already issued Canadian investors with licences to grow medicinal cannabis. Despite the legal ban, cannabis is virtually legal in the country. In any case, Lesotho’s authorities are only taking action against hemp farmers, if at all, under pressure from their overpowering neighbour. In South Africa, 70% of the cannabis sold originates from Lesotho. If the political pressure from South Africa weakens, Lesotho’s cannabis ban will fall before all others on the African continent.
Special cases USA, Israel and Spain
In the USA and in Israel, there are already many producers of medicinal cannabis. At a federal level, cannabis remains illegal in the USA, and this will not change before 2019 at the very earliest. Even if the federal states decide to deregulate cannabis for adults, it may take several years for cannabis to become legal for recreational use on a national level. You can’t expect much from the Trump government – on the contrary!
Even in Spain, despite tolerated cannabis social clubs and a left-liberal government, national legalisation is still a long way from being discussed. Despite a strong legalisation movement in Spain, so far it has not even been possible to lay down medicinal use in law. Because the supply situation for patients and consumers is excellent due to the tolerated dispensing points, and the expected penalties for growing and selling are moderate, there is little political pressure to change anything in the near future.
Israel is already one of the biggest producers of medicinal cannabis and will soon become an export nation. The legalisation of recreational use is also widely supported among the population there. However, it is not conceivable that the two major parties in the country will change their position. Due to the current security position, it is even less likely that Israel will be governed by liberal forces in the near future. Cannabis is simply not an issue that wins votes, because more important matters are what dictate everyday life. Taken together, these factors make rapid legalisation in Israel unlikely.
What is the situation in the rest of the world?
Other candidates, which have frequently been named recently, will probably take a bit longer. Countries such as Greece, Colombia, Lebanon and Peru have recently passed laws on the medicinal use of cannabis, yet recreational users there still do not have the political lobby which has become increasingly popular in the above-mentioned countries, and not just since the introduction of national laws on medicinal use.
Many governments, which sense a profitable business with medicinal cannabis and are adopting half-baked laws, also believe they can divide the world into good (medicinal) and bad (recreational) cannabis use. However, voters in the US states and in Canada have shown that people are not allowing themselves to be deceived anymore, when governments think in terms of long outdated black and white categories when it comes to cannabis legislation.
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