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The 4-1-1 on the 4-2-0: Pot Tourism in the U.S. and Abroad

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStock / thinkstock.com

Pot tourism is a high… er, hot topic among travelers these days. In 2012, voters in two U.S. states, Colorado and Washington, approved initiatives that decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana, while Uruguay recently became the first country to completely legalize pot. Then there are Canada, the Netherlands, Jamaica, and dozens of other countries across the globe where cannabis is technically illegal, but somewhat tolerated. This article will discuss the legal guidelines tourists should abide by if they want to toke up during their travels.

Let’s start on the home front. In Colorado, the only U.S. state where dispensaries are technically legal at this time, anyone over the age of 21 can possess up to an ounce of pot for recreational use; they are also allowed to gift the same amount to anyone else who meets the age requirement. In Washington, the approved legislation has moved a little more slowly. Although private vendors are expected to receive legal licenses sometime within the next few weeks, dispensaries are still technically off-limits to recreational smokers. That being said, enforcement of pot laws in Washington is regarded as low-priority. It should be noted that public smoking and driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in both states, and the drug remains illegal, even for medical patients, on all federal lands (i.e., national parks and national forests).

Other states aren’t far behind Colorado and Washington. In Oregon, which became the first state to decriminalize weed more than 40 years ago, most city- and state-level law enforcement agencies will not enforce pot laws. However, 2012 voters opted not to approve legislation that would make the drug totally legal for recreational users. Eight other states (Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont) have passed laws making possession of certain amounts (typically one ounce) punishable only as misdemeanors, although repeat offenses in some of these states may lead to felony charges. Another six states (Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio) have replaced jail time with fines and drug education for pot offenders.

What about our neighbors to the North? In recent polls, most Canadians have expressed the opinion that cannabis should be decriminalized nationwide, and visitors to cities like Vancouver may encounter bars, cafes, and other public places where people are freely smoking marijuana. It’s also legal to cultivate your own marijuana plants on Canadian soil. But technically, recreational use is still illegal, albeit barely enforced by officers of the law. Israel abides by the same general allowance; private citizens can cultivate plants, but Israelis are forbidden from selling their product to recreational consumers.

Uruguay recently made the news as the world’s first country to completely legalize recreational marijuana use. Anyone who visits the South American nation may freely buy as much pot as they wish, and citizens may produce and sell their crops to patrons; the annual allotment is six plants, or 480 grams sold. Citizens can also form “smoking clubs”, which are allowed to grow up to 99 plants per year. With passage of the law, Uruguay also became the first, and only, place in the world where public marijuana use is legal. Heck, it’s downright encouraged.

For the record, there are two other countries where the legalization of marijuana is somewhat ambiguous. The first is Bangladesh, where cannabis figures into many traditional ceremonies. The country doesn’t really impose any anti-marijuana laws, although there are some international treaties in place that may affect tourists. The second country is a genuine shocker: North Korea (yes, that North Korea). While the rest of the international community isn’t 100-percent sure about the pot laws in the isolated Asian dictatorship, it’s believed that many citizens recreationally consume pot on a regular basis, and large quantities of the plant are available for purchase in public markets. This is in sharp contrast to neighboring South Korea, where merely socializing with pot smokers without consuming any yourself can earn you a trip to jail, and possession of small quantities can net you years behind bars.

Then there’s Amsterdam. The capital of the Netherlands is known for its liberal drug laws, and the city is dotted with establishments (known affectionately as ‘coffee shops’) where customers can buy marijuana and smoke it on the premises. But just so we’re clear, the Dutch have yet to completely legalize marijuana. Although the country has decriminalized possession of up to five grams, recreational possession and use of marijuana remains technically illegal (albeit, widely tolerated). You can still smoke in coffee shops or private residences, but not in public ― and Dutch police are sticklers about this one.

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As for Jamaica, it’s one of the many countries across the globe where marijuana is illegal to buy, sell, cultivate, or consume―but the laws are largely overlooked. Here’s a list of other countries where weed possession, distribution, and consumption have been decriminalized to a degree:

  • Argentina (small amounts for personal use are legal, and public consumption is widely tolerated)
  • Australia (decriminalized for personal use in Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory)
  • Belgium (adults over 18 may possess up to three grams and consume pot in private residences)
  • Belize (public consumption is commonly accepted, but possession is strictly enforced)
  • Brazil (still illegal, but widely used and generally tolerated)
  • Cambodia (technically illegal, but widely used by citizens and tourists, and generally available for purchase in public markets)
  • Colombia (personal use and possession of up to 22 grams is legal, but sale and distribution is illegal)
  • Costa Rica (illegal, but widely used throughout the country)
  • Croatia (possession of trace amounts can result in a fine, but offenders are rarely imprisoned)
  • Czech Republic (up to 15 grams for personal use is classified as a misdemeanor)
  • Ecuador (possession of up to 10 grams is legal)
  • Estonia (possession of up to 10 grams is considered a misdemeanor)
  • India (pot is smoked during many traditional ceremonies and festivals; participants should obtain a government waiver, but enforcement of pot consumption and possession is fairly relaxed throughout the country)
  • Iran (technically legal if consumed as food)
  • Italy (possession of small amounts is a misdemeanor, and will likely result in a fine ― although it may earn you an expulsion from the country)
  • Mexico (possessing up to five grams for personal use is legal)
  • Nepal (illegal, but laws are rarely enforced)
  • Pakistan (illegal, but laws are rarely enforced)
  • Peru (possession of up to eight grams for personal use is legal)
  • Portugal (small amounts of weed, hash, and hash oil are all legal for personal use)
  • Russia (up to six grams for personal use is legal, provided the consumer doesn’t sell or distribute their product to anyone else)
  • Spain (possession or consumption is punished with a fine, and the pot will be confiscated)
  • Switzerland (illegal to use, possess, or sell, but minimum penalties are imposed)

Finally, be sure to never, under any circumstances, smoke, possess, or sell marijuana in the following countries: China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, and United Arab Emirates. These are the countries where pot offenders may be (and have been) imprisoned for decades and/or executed.

No matter where you travel, make sure to read up on the local and national laws before lighting up or buying a bag of weed.


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