Global Legalization of Medicinal Cannabis: A Comprehensive Overview

12 Minute Read

As the world evolves, so does our understanding and acceptance of medicinal cannabis. This once-controversial plant is now at the forefront of a global health revolution. 

Let’s delve into the current state of medicinal cannabis legalization around the world and what it means for global healthcare.

The Evolution of Medicinal Cannabis

To understand where we stand today, it's essential to acknowledge the historical context of medicinal cannabis. For centuries, cannabis has been used for its therapeutic properties in various cultures. Here's a glimpse into the evolution of medicinal cannabis:

Ancient Beginnings

The use of cannabis as medicine dates back to ancient civilizations in Asia, where it was employed for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and sedative effects. In China, it was documented in texts like the Pen Ts'ao Ching (Divine Farmer's Materia Medica) as early as 2700 BC.

Traditional Remedies

Over centuries, cannabis found its way into traditional medical practices across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It was used to treat a wide range of ailments, including pain, nausea, and epilepsy. In India, it was a key component of Ayurvedic medicine. 

Over time, it integrated into traditional medical practices across the globe and eventually entered Western medicine in the 19th century. Queen Victoria's personal physician even prescribed cannabis for her menstrual cramps.

Prohibition and Stigmatization

In the early 20th century, cannabis faced increasing legal restrictions and societal stigma, leading to its eventual prohibition in many countries. This marked a period where the medical potential of cannabis was largely forgotten or dismissed.

Rediscovery and Legalization

In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in medicinal cannabis. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the 1990s shed light on the biological mechanisms underlying cannabis' therapeutic effects. This paved the way for medical cannabis programs and legalization in numerous states and countries.

Modern Medical Applications

Today, cannabis is recognized for its potential to manage a variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, nausea related to chemotherapy, and more. Cannabis-derived compounds like CBD (cannabidiol) have gained popularity for their non-psychoactive therapeutic properties.

Countries with Legal Medicinal Cannabis

The legal status of medicinal cannabis varies widely from one country to another. Some countries have embraced its potential benefits and have established comprehensive regulatory frameworks for its use. 

*Please note that the legal status of cannabis is subject to change. 

Now let’s focus on these countries where cannabis is legal or allowed under certain circumstances:

Albania: On 21 July 2023, the Albanian Parliament on Friday legalized cannabis for medical purposes in a country once known as a European crossroads for marijuana trafficking.

Argentina: Medicinal cannabis has been legal nationally since 21 September 2017 as the Government regulated Law 27350, which regulates medical and scientific research into the medicinal use of the cannabis plant and its derivatives.

Australia: Medicinal cannabis in Australia can typically be legally prescribed by a doctor if they believe it is clinically appropriate and they have obtained the relevant Commonwealth and/or state government approvals.

There is currently only one medicinal cannabis product (Sativex) registered with the TGA. According to Multiple Sclerosis Australia, this product has been approved by the TGA for the treatment of patients with muscle stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis.

Austria: Cannabis in Austria is legal for scientific and medical usage, but illegal for recreational usage. The sale of cannabis seeds and plants is legal.

Barbados: Medical use of cannabis was legalized in November 2019 through the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill. The Cannabis Industry Bill allows medical cannabis to be prescribed by a practitioner to Barbadians or visitors to the island.

Belgium: In June 2015, Maggie De Block, a Belgian politician of the Open VLD, signed a royal decree legalizing certain uses of medical cannabis, which as of 2015 only include Sativex oral spray for multiple sclerosis.

Bermuda: In November 2016, the Supreme Court of Bermuda ruled in favor of allowing the medical use of cannabis. As of July 2018, two doctors have been licensed to prescribe the drug.

Brazil: Some products of cannabis i.e., CBD and THC, are legal to be used by terminally ill patients or those who have exhausted other treatment options. It is also possible to import, manufacture, and sell cannabis-based medicines.

Canada: Cannabis in Canada is legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes. It was originally prohibited in 1923 until regulated medical cannabis became legal on 30 July 2001

Chile: Medicinal cultivation is legal with the authorization of The Chilean Agriculture Service (SAG) and the sale of medication is allowed on prescription in pharmacies.

Colombia: Cannabis in Colombia is fully legal for medicinal purposes (since 2016) and for industrial purposes (since 2021).

Costa Rica: The consumption of Cannabis in Costa Rica is nominally illegal; however, personal consumption does not carry any criminal penalties. The sale of marijuana, however, can be punished criminally. As of March 2022, medicinal cannabis has been approved.

Croatia: As of 15 October 2015, the Ministry of Health officially legalized the use of cannabis-based drugs for medical purposes for patients with illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or AIDS.

Cyprus: Cyprus legalized the medical use of cannabis oil in January 2017, for use by advanced state cancer patients only. In February 2019 a more expansive law was passed that increased the number of qualifying medical conditions.

Czech: The law of allowing cannabis to be legally available on prescription in pharmacies as a medicine came into effect on 1 April 2013 and since then medical use of cannabis has been legal and regulated in the Czech Republic.

Denmark: Three types of cannabis derivatives for medical use (Sativex, Marinol, and Nabilone) were approved by the Danish Medicines Agency in 2011, but require a prescription. These are prescribed primarily for the relief of pain and nausea in cancer patients and to alleviate muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis patients.

Ecuador: Cannabis for medical purposes was legalized by the National Assembly of Ecuador in September 2019 by an 83 to 23 vote.

Estonia: With a special permit, Medical Cannabis is allowed to be used in Estonia.

Finland: An extremely limited group of medicinal users (223 in 2014) are permitted to purchase Sativex mouth spray and/or Bedrocan, Bediol, or Bedica brand herbal cannabis from one of 27 apothecaries that have the permit to sell medical cannabis.

France: Medical use of some cannabinoid drugs legalized in 2013.

Georgia: Cannabis in Georgia is legal in terms of its possession and consumption due to a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Georgia on 30 July 2018.

Germany: Cannabis in Germany is legal for certain limited medical contexts, but illegal for recreational usage, though possession of minor amounts is not always prosecuted. As of 2022, approximately 4 million adults in Germany use cannabis.

Ghana: Cannabis in Ghana is illegal without a license from the Minister of Health, but the nation is, along with Nigeria, among the top illicit cannabis-producing countries of West Africa.

Greece: Cannabis in Greece is illegal for recreational purposes. In 2017, the Greek government legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and a year later, they lifted the ban on growing or producing it. This enables pharmaceutical companies to grow cannabis legally, and industrial hemp suppliers too.

Hungary: According to a 2019 article, cannabis for medical use is legal in theory, as some Sativex prescriptions have been made, but patients can rarely get it prescribed and the price of Sativex is high.

India: The cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes such as making industrial hemp use is legal in India. The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances recognizes cannabis as a source of biomass, fiber, and high-value oil. The Government of India encourages the research and cultivation of cannabis with low THC content

Ireland: Cannabis in Ireland is illegal for recreational purposes. Use for medical purposes requires case-by-case approval by the Minister for Health.

Israel: Cannabis in Israel is allowed for specified medical usage, and is illegal but partially decriminalized for recreational use, with prosecution for home use and possession of 15 grams or less generally not enforced by the authorities.

Italy: At present, cannabis is legal in Italy for medical and industrial uses, although it is strictly regulated, while it is decriminalized for recreational uses. 

Jamaica: Cannabis in Jamaica is illegal, but it is legal for medical usage.

Japan: Industrial hemp is legal under Japanese law, though its cultivation is strictly regulated. Cannabidiol (CBD) and certain cannabis derivatives such as THC-O are legal due to a regulatory loophole that permits the importation of products made from cannabis stems and stalks that do not contain THC, though certain derivatives and synthetic cannabinoids such as HHC and CUMYL-CBMICA have been made illegal.

South Korea: Medical use of cannabis was legalized in November 2018. The plant itself, however, remains unavailable due to the policy made by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

Lebanon: The cultivation of cannabis for medical use was legalized in April 2020.

Luxembourg: Cannabis in Luxembourg is legal for recreational and medical use for adults under specific circumstances. A bill was passed in the country's parliament in June 2023 to legalise the following for adults in Luxembourg: recreational possession, home use of cannabis, and growing up to four cannabis plants per household. The law took effect on 21 July 2023.

Malawi: In February 2020, Malawi's parliament legalized the cultivation and processing of cannabis for industrial and medicinal uses, but did not decriminalize recreational use in the country.

Malta: Cannabis in Malta is legal, within limits, to grow, use, and possess for adults. In 2018, the Parliament of Malta legalized medical cannabis.

Mexico: Cannabis in Mexico is legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes. It became legal for recreational purposes in June 2021, upon application and issuance of a permit from the health secretariat, COFEPRIS (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios).

Morocco: Cannabis in Morocco had been illegal since the nation's independence in 1956, reaffirmed by a total ban on drugs in 1974, but was partially tolerated in the country. On May 26, 2021, the Moroccan parliament voted to legalize the use of cannabis for medical, as well as cosmetic and industrial purposes

Netherlands: Since 2003, there has been a legal prescription drug known as "Mediwiet", available at Dutch pharmacies. There are five different types of medical cannabis in the Netherlands; the fifth contains Cannabidiol and almost no Tetrahydrocannabinol.

New Zealand: Approved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals can be prescribed by a specialist doctor, but requires patients to meet strict criteria. As of April 2016, only Sativex is approved for use in New Zealand; it is not subsidized, so patients must pay the full retail cost. Unapproved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals (e.g. Cesamet, Marinol) and non-pharmaceutical cannabis products can be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Minister of Health. As of 1 April 2020 and the introduction of the Medical Cannabis Scheme, CBD products may be prescribed by any doctor registered to practice in New Zealand.

North Macedonia: On February 9, 2016, the Macedonian Parliament Health Committee gave its approval for the legalization of medical marijuana. Beginning in June 2016, patients without a prescription were allowed to buy oil with 0.2 percent cannabinoids or less; more concentrated forms require a prescription.

Norway: Cannabis in Norway is strictly legalized for medicinal use; all other purposes are illegal.

Pakistan: Cannabis in Pakistan is illegal for recreational use, although, since September 2020, extracts of cannabis can be used for industrial and medical use. Cannabis is widely consumed in Pakistan as charas and bhang.

Panama: Medical cannabis was legalized in 2021 after a bill passed the national assembly by a unanimous vote and was signed into law by President Laurentino Cortizo in October. Panama became the first Central American country to legalize medical cannabis in doing so.

Peru: In 2017, the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced a plan to legalize medical cannabis in Peru. The announcement followed a raid in Lima, in which police shut down an operation that produced cannabis medicines for 80 members whose children suffered from epilepsy and other ailments. Later that year, by a vote of 68 to 5, Peru's congress legalized cannabis oil for medical use.

Philippines: Medical use of cannabis is possible with a special permit from the Food and Drugs Authority for use by individuals with serious or terminal illnesses.

Poland: Poland legalized the medical use of cannabis in July 2018 (Piotr Liroy-Marzec bill). The law went into effect in November 2018.

Portugal: In July 2018, legislation was signed into law to allow for the medical use of cannabis in Portugal and its dispensation at pharmacies. Personal cultivation for medical use remains against the law. As a result, importing of medical cannabis to Portugal has become a promising business opportunity for local entrepreneurs and cannabis companies.

Romania: A limited medical cannabis law was passed in 2013, allowing for the use of low-THC (below 0.2%) derivatives of the plant only.

Rwanda: In 2010 the Minister of Health proposed a law to allow cannabis to be used for medical purposes in the country. In 2021, Rwanda passed an order making cannabis for medicinal purposes legal.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: Parliament on December 11, 2018, passed two Acts, one which establishes a Medical Cannabis Industry in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the other which offers amnesty for traditional marijuana growers.

San Marino: In 2016, an istanza d’Arengo (public initiative) was presented to the government of San Marino, requesting the legalization of medical cannabis. The measure was approved by the government, which began the process of establishing a cultivation plan, negotiating international treaties, and other needed steps.

As of 2016, Sativex is issued at no cost in San Marino to patients suffering from pain due to multiple sclerosis or bone marrow conditions.

Singapore: Cannabis in Singapore is currently illegal for recreational purposes, but medicinal purposes have been allowed under extraordinary circumstances in recent years. Singapore's National Research Foundation (NRF) announced on January 10, 2018, that it would develop synthetic medicinal cannabinoids, or chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant, to eventually help treat diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Slovakia: As an EU member country, Slovakia permits the sale, purchase, and use of hemp-derived CBD products in line with EU regulations. Such regulations state that CBD supplements must be made from hemp, the non-toxic member of the cannabis plant family and must contain less than 0.2% THC content.

Slovenia: Cannabis-based drugs are legal for medicinal use, but not cannabis itself.

South Africa: The use of cannabis is highly regulated, and only allowed to be consumed in private, by adults over the age of 18 years. While the recreational use of cannabis in private is legal, many aspects of producing, processing, storing, possessing, transporting, and selling it are still against the law.

Spain: The sale and importation of any quantity of cannabis is a criminal offense, punishable by jail time. The purchase, possession, and consumption of cannabis in a public place constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and confiscation of the product. Consumption and cultivation by adults in a private space is legal, the latter due to a legal vacuum provided that it is shown to be for one's own consumption.

Sri Lanka: The sale of cannabis is decriminalized for traditional medicine vendors and it is commonly used in Ayurvedic traditional medicines.

Sweden: Cannabis in Sweden is illegal for all purposes. It is illegal for recreational purposes, for most medical purposes and possession of even small amounts of cannabis is a criminal offence. Consequently, limited medical usage of cannabis-based drugs is only allowed for specific conditions.

Switzerland: An official cannabidiol preparation (Epidiolex) for rare forms of epilepsy was approved by the FDA in June 2018, and by the European Medicines Agency in September 2019. Since then, Swiss pharmacies are allowed to prepare and dispense medicinal products containing cannabidiol as a magistral formulation and prescription drug (not subject to the Narcotics Act), in accordance with current German Drug Codex DAC/NRF and Swiss pharmacopeial standards.

Thailand:  Medical use, with patients requiring a prescription, has been made legal since 2018.

Turkey: In 2016, legislation was approved to allow the use of sublingual cannabinoid medications (such as Sativex) for use with a doctor's prescription. The use of whole-plant cannabis remains illegal.

Ukraine: On 7 July 2023, The Ministry of Health of Ukraine supported the legalisation of cannabis-based medicines, which was advocated by Zelenskyy and deputy head of the department, chief state sanitary doctor Ihor Kuzin. On 13 July 2023, the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill to legalize medical cannabis.

United Kingdom: Cannabis-derived medicines are only legal when prescribed by a specialist consultant and General Practitioners are not allowed to prescribe cannabis-derived medicines. 

United States: In the United States, the use of cannabis for medical purposes is legal in 38 states, four out of five permanently inhabited U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as of March 2023.

Uruguay: Cannabis is legal in Uruguay, and is one of the most widely used drugs in the nation.

Vanuatu: Cannabis in Vanuatu is illegal for recreational purposes but is legal for medical and industrial purposes.

Zambia: Cannabis in Zambia is illegal for recreational use. In December 2019, by unanimous decision, it was legalized for export and medicinal purposes only.

Zimbabwe: Cannabis in Zimbabwe is illegal except for licensed medical use, and possession may be punished with up to 12 years in jail.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, as the global perspective on medicinal cannabis evolves rapidly, it's crucial to acknowledge that seeking guidance from healthcare professionals is paramount before embarking on any medical cannabis journey. 

Consulting with a healthcare provider ensures personalized and informed decisions aligned with individual health needs. At India Hemp Organics, we prioritize your well-being by offering free doctor consultations with our experienced Ayurvedic doctor, who has over 8 years of expertise in natural medicine. Remember, your health is your most valuable asset, and we're here to support you every step of the way.

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