Marijuana has been cultivated for its herbal properties for millennia, but opinion remains divided as to whether it is a traditional, non-harmful medication or a dangerous and addictive drug. Across the world, marijuana is treated with varying degrees of suspicion and controlled by a confusing array of legislation.
What is the point of marijuana?
One of the oldest psychoactive drugs known to man, its properties have been recognized for thousands of years, and it has an extensive history of being used for medicinal and spiritual applications. The active substance contained in marijuana is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is produced in the leaves and buds of the plant. The dried plant material can be smoked or ingested in food, with smoking providing a more instant effect, while ingestion creates a lower level but longer-lasting effect. Users may experience a deep sense of well-being and relaxation, which is why it is so popular for stress relief. You may also have a heightened sense of perception and a reduction in inhibition, as well as the common effects of getting the giggles and feeling hungry (“having the munchies”).
Why isn’t it legal everywhere?
The reasons are complex and often highly politicized. Like alcohol, proponents see marijuana as a harmless and enjoyable product when consumed in moderation, but critics claim it is a risk factor for antisocial behavior, mental impairment and addiction. Many laws restricting marijuana use were made as a knee-jerk reaction at a time when little was known about whether there were any harmful effects. Authoritarian administrations made judgements based more on their prejudices than any scientific facts, and those laws were much easier to make than repeal. There is an abundance of scientific evidence available for consumers to examine and make their own conclusions, but until definitive studies can be completed there can be no consensus on marijuana’s cumulative effects. In many countries, marijuana is seen as a drug equal to heroin and cocaine and is legislated accordingly, but many locations have adopted a more relaxed attitude to its consumption.
Marijuana across the world
In India, the plant was enshrined in the five kingdoms of herbs, respected for its relaxing properties and for facilitating spiritual enlightenment, and it can be obtained legally through government-owned shops in the form of bhang, an edible preparation made from the Cannabis Indica subspecies which has a lower TCH content. It is illegal to have any form of the more psychoactive subspecies Cannabis Sativa, however, in practice, the law is not enforced to any great degree. Cannabis Sativa does grow wild in many states across the country, and a few states have their own laws about consumption that permit the use of marijuana, which they call ganja.
In the United States, marijuana use is common, with over 22 million Americans being current users. Possession was made a criminal offense in 1937, and the approach to marijuana has remained draconian until fairly recently. Marijuana is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, alongside heroin and LSD. However, most states now permit the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The overall picture is somewhat confusing, with some states permitting the recreational use of marijuana, while in others, only medical marijuana is allowed, and then only in certain forms. In the wake of expanding leniency towards the drug and the increase in legalization, new businesses have flourished, providing supplies and facilities for legal consumption. Businesses have also recognized the importance of having a presence on the web, and there is a dizzying array of sites to explore. Click for more information on all aspects of marijuana use in the USA today. Canada legalized medical marijuana in 2001, and the current administration plans to legalize recreational use of the drug in the near future.
Portugal has taken a radical approach to drug use across the board, and it is legal to possess any drugs for personal consumption. Studies have so far shown a significant drop in the use of hard drugs, and their approach is being monitored to see what can be learned. Holland is another tolerant nation, having legal cannabis cafes for over 18s. Although technically illegal, the law is not enforced, and you can happily smoke marijuana in most places. Spain has a similar attitude, with over 800 private cannabis clubs operating for the use of local residents. It is legal to possess and even grow plants for private consumption, although distribution remains illegal. Switzerland and Estonia have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic permit the possession of medical marijuana.
Possessing, using and growing marijuana is now legal in Uruguay, and pharmacies are now starting to sell it. In Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and Costa Rica, marijuana is still technically illegal, but small amounts for personal use are considered acceptable. Argentina and Mexico have legalized medical marijuana, and the Argentinian government even provides it free for citizens with qualifying ailments.
Rather surprisingly for a nation known for its overbearing legislature, North Korea has no law (or if it does it doesn’t enforce it) against selling, possessing or using marijuana. In Cambodia, although illegal, growing and consuming your own marijuana is generally overlooked by law enforcement.
The rest of the world
Israel has some of the highest concentrations of medical marijuana consumption and is a respected source of research into marijuana use. Jamaica might have a reputation for being a major marijuana consumer, thanks to the religious consumption by Rastafarians (which is protected by law) but it’s only recently that the drug has been decriminalized. Medicinal use is legal, while small amounts for personal recreational use are now permitted. Australians also have a reputation for being laid back, but only the neediest of patients are permitted to use medical marijuana, and recreational use remains illegal.
It does look like some parts of the world are changing their approach to dealing with marijuana use. Knowledge is power, and valid research over the coming years should influence more countries to look again at their marijuana laws.