Last updated: April 28, 2019

What Does Legalization Mean?

Legalization of cannabis means to make legal the consumption, distribution, ownership, and sale of cannabis. Legalization takes many different forms across the globe and differs from simple decriminalization. In decriminalization, the use of cannabis is not a crime, but it's still not legal (i.e., a person can still be fined for possession, but not criminally charge).

While marijuana is legal in some countries, it remains illegal in many countries. The possession of marijuana has been illegal in many countries since the widespread marijuana prohibition in the late 1930s. But, despite being illegal, the possession of cannabis in nominal quantities has been decriminalized in many parts of the world.

Marijuana can be used for medical purposes in several countries such as Canada, Israel, the Czech Republic and so on. Similarly, medical marijuana is legal in 29 states in the United States of America.


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Globally, there have been ongoing changes in attitudes towards marijuana possession and consumption. The Netherlands has been known for their laxed marijuana laws since their Opium Law from 1976 allows regulated possession and sale of marijuana in coffee shops.

Uruguay took a revolutionary step in December 10, 2013 and is known as the first country that legalized the sale, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana. Canada is working towards legalizing recreational marijuana as of July 2018. The USA is also inching towards legalization. While the USA federal law does not allow the possession and sale of weed in the country, the Obama Administration did not prosecute consumers and dealers who used and/or dealt weed within the state, territory and Indian reservation laws allow medical and recreational marijuana. In fact, now there are some states in the USA where possession and consumption is legal.

Like the legal spectrum from country to country, the severity of penalties differs from country to country. Similarly, even the penalties differ from country to country, ranging from lenient to extremely severe. The penalties can vary based on nature of use (cultivation, the use, the possession etc.) with some countries settling matters with fines and confiscation of marijuana rather than imprisonment when possession quantities are nominal. Along with confiscation and fines, some places even conduct mandatory narcotic treatment programs for young and frequent users to reduce use and dependency.

Detection laws vary based on country as well. In the United States of America, employers can conduct random or frequent drug tests and strip off jobs even for medical marijuana use. In most European countries there are privacy and labor laws that prevent such drug tests for job applicants. Similarly, just the possession of cannabis can lead to prolonged jail sentences in parts of East and Southeast Asia. In some countries, the most severe punishment for the sale of cannabis can result in life imprisonment or even execution.


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