5 Countries Where You Can Light Up Without Worry
In good news for 420 enthusiasts, Mexico's supreme court ruled against the country's restrictive marijuana laws, marking the first step — however small — on the path to legalization. Small, because only four people can light up without fear of jail time. Unlike in the United States, supreme court rulings in Mexico don't automatically apply to every other Mexican citizen in the same situation. In this case, the court ruled in favor of four people that belong to Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use; they can now grow and smoke their own marijuana. The country joins a growing list of jurisdictions in the United States and around the world moving toward legalization of recreational marijuana.
Mexico is significant considering its active role in the war on drugs, in cooperation with the United States. The crackdown in Mexico has led to large levels of violence and corruption, with increased fighting between the government and drug cartels. The illegal pot trade has continued, largely unimpeded. According to a 2010 report by the RAND Corporation, Mexican drug cartels make about $1.5 billion a year from marijuana they export to the United States. Although symbolically significant given its role as a big pot grower, Mexico is not alone in its move toward decriminalization and legalization. Looking to light up abroad? It's not just Amsterdam anymore.
This small South American country, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, has taken one of the strongest stands in Latin America in favor of legal marijuana. The country legalized sales of the drug in 2014. You have three ways to get your pot. In theory, you can grow at home, buy it at a pharmacy, or join a collective "grow club." Implementation of the ground-breaking law has been a little slow, and the government hasn't fully trained police. That said, the country hopes to have pot available at pharmacies by Christmas at the price of $1 per gram.
Spain has a complicated system of drug laws, but marijuana is not criminalized as long as you smoke in private. Since the '90s, if you are caught with drugs in public, you won't be punished by jail time, but you might get a hefty fine of about $330. You can grow two plants for personal use, but buying or carrying is still illegal. In a creative way around these seemingly contradictory laws, "private clubs" have flourished. In cities like Barcelona, you can easily join a members-only pot club where you can smoke your own weed or buy some of theirs. Tourists, beware, though. The regional government has tried to stymie marijuana tourism by limiting membership to Spanish residents.
Unlike many former Soviet countries, the Czech Republic is not heavy handed when it comes to its drug laws. Medical marijuana is legal and Czech drug law does not consider usage of any drug a criminal offense, just possession of large quantities. It also differentiates between cannabis and other harder drugs. Up to 10 grams of marijuana is considered for personal use and is therefore not a criminal offense. But, it can still result in a fine (and a steep one, up to $550). Don't grow, though! That can get you in some even hotter water. But if you do decide to light up, you won't be alone. According to a 2014 European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction Policy report, in the Czech Republic 18.5 percent of young adults used cannabis in the last 12 months. That's the highest percentage in Europe.
Portugal has decriminalized possession and consumption of all drugs, as long as you don't have more than a 10-day supply. If you're caught with this small amount you can be sent to a treatment center or be forced to a pay a fine. A three-person committee decides your fate, but often there is no penalty. In addition to benefiting marijuana users, that 2014 European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction Policy report showed that the law has led to a reduction in drug deaths and HIV cases.
In 2013, the mountainous Central European country decriminalized marijuana for people over 18 with 10 grams or less of the drug. There's still a fine if you're caught — about $110 — but it doesn't go on your permanent record and you don't have to make a court appearance. But with the country's high salaries, that works out to quite a cheap fine. You'll still want to smoke in private, though; taking the drug is illegal and can result in much higher fines, especially if you're a repeat offender.
Given the state-by-state policy in the United States, there are states that are both way ahead of the international movement towards legalization and way behind. So if your travel budget won't quite stretch to Europe or South America, consider a domestic flight to Washington, Colorado, Oregon, or Alaska.