Ever since Canada became the first major country to legalize marijuana for adults a year ago, other nations have been paying attention.
The small South American nation of Uruguay was the
first to legalize marijuana for adults. New Zealand, Luxembourg and
Mexico are among those that have looked to Canada for guidance or
lessons, while Russia has chastised it for its “barefaced” flouting of
international anti-drug treaties.
Here’s a look at how Canada’s experiment is playing out internationally and where the next attempts at legalization are coming:
continue to flout federal prohibition and legalize marijuana within
their borders, arguing that the nation’s war on pot has drained law
enforcement resources, had a disparate impact on minorities and failed
to curb the drug’s popularity.
Thirty-three states and Washington,
D.C., have now legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, with
Michigan and Illinois the most recent of 11 states to OK recreational
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives, with
significant bipartisan support, passed a bill that would grant legal
marijuana businesses access to banking while sheltering financial
institutions from prosecution for handling marijuana-linked money. That
would clear up a serious headache for the industry. Many pot businesses
have had to conduct sales and pay vendors or taxes in cash, making them
robbery targets and also making it harder to detect theft, tax evasion
and money laundering.
Advocates say the vote was a sign the U.S.,
long the world’s leading proponent of the drug war, is ready for
comprehensive cannabis reform.
small nation of about 615,000 people has decriminalized possession of
small amounts of the drug, and since January it has allowed medical use.
Now it is aiming to become the first country in Europe to legalize and
regulate recreational sales to adults, a development that could lead to
broader cannabis regulation in the European Union.
has announced that it intends to legalize sales, with Health Minister
Etienne Schneider recently telling the Euronews television network that
the country’s cannabis legislation will be “inspired by the Canadian
model.” Officials estimate that it will take about two years before
legal sales begin.
While Schneider said Luxembourg’s legalization
won’t force the hand of other EU nations, he said he intended to speak
with counterparts in Germany, France and Belgium, the countries that
border Luxembourg, and encourage them to explore the possibility of
regulating the drug. In the meantime, Schneider said, Luxembourg will
respect their prohibitions by limiting sales to Luxembourg residents.
Supreme Court ruled last year that the government’s ban on the personal
use of marijuana was unconstitutional, the culmination of a series of
rulings against prohibition since 2015. That’s helped put Mexico on a
path toward full legalization. Before he was even sworn in, President
Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent emissaries to Canada to discuss its
approach to cannabis.
Things are moving quickly now, with the
ruling party’s Senate leader saying the chamber intends to vote on a new
legalization measure by the end of this month, following dozens of
forums in which politicians, advocates and voters have worked out what a
regulated system might look like.
“The importance of Canada
having regulated is that it broke the taboo on an international level in
a way that Uruguay did not,” said Zara Snapp, a drug policy reform
advocate in Mexico City. “For us, what it taught us is there is a path,
and that path is possible without there being any apocalyptic sanctions
from international bodies.”
That said, after severe drug-war
violence, Mexico’s legalization is not likely to mirror Canada’s, where a
few massive corporations have dominated production and more artisanal
growers have largely been shut out. For example, lawmakers are
considering giving greater licensing privileges to indigenous groups,
“We need it to have a way bigger impact than just tax
revenue or stock exchange values,” Snapp said. “The things that indicate
success in other jurisdictions are not going to be the same indicators
of success for us.”
New Zealand will
hold a referendum next year on whether to legalize and regulate the
adult use of marijuana — the first country to put legalization to a
nationwide vote. Officials are still hammering out the exact language,
but in a speech last month Justice Minister Andrew Little said the
measure would include a minimum purchase and use age of 20; a ban on
using the drug in public; limits on home growing, marketing and
advertising; a public education program; and licensing requirements for
the entire supply chain.
“The approach we are taking is that in
the event of a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum, it will be necessary to
have a regime that affords maximum control, so that the obvious risks
can be minimized,” Little told a drug policy symposium last month.
the vote will be binding is a matter of dispute. The three parties that
make up New Zealand’s governing coalition have vowed to honor it, but
legislation would be required to effect legalization, and the
center-right party National has not made clear whether it will support
Advocates have expressed concern about social justice in
New Zealand’s legalization efforts as well, suggesting that its model
could strike a balance between Uruguay, where access to cannabis is
tightly controlled at a small number of pharmacies, and the more
commercial approach taken by some Canadian provinces and U.S. states.
legalization hasn’t been uniformly well received. Russia’s
representative to the international Commission on Narcotic Drugs
lamented the “barefaced” and “blatant violation by Canada of its
international obligations” under anti-drug treaties.
real danger that some other countries may follow the example set by
Canada, which would lead to the erosion and even dismantling of the
whole international legal foundation of our fight against narcotic
drugs,” Mikhail Ulyanov said.
As recently as this month, Russia’s
mission to the UN tweeted: ”#Legalization of narcotic drugs, including
cannabis, for recreational purposes constitutes a grave violation of the
But Russia may have ulterior motives in
criticizing Canada, given what many world leaders consider to be its own
flouting of international law in annexing Crimea, among other issues.
“Russia has its reasons for trying to call out a country like Canada on its commitment to international rule of law,” said John Walsh, who monitors global drug policy with the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America. “They delight in being able to say Canada is athwart its obligations. But I don’t think Russia’s bluster is going to keep other countries from moving forward.”
By Gene Johnson