Canna-bust: The World’s Zaniest Cannabis Laws

Matt Weeks October 16, 2018 0 comments

Every country has its own laws around cannabis. Know before you put some ‘medicine’ in your backpack.

There can be a lot of empty air between common sense and the law — especially when it comes to cannabis. The so-called ‘wacky weed’ has, for decades, been a tool of racism, prohibitionist policies and mental flights of fancy for lawmakers.

After all, when you’re legislating against a medicinally effective, non-life-threatening, natural plant, it’s hard to come up with any justification for treating it like radioactive waste.

But, some laws around cannabis are crazier than others. Here is a brief rundown of the nuttiest cannabis laws worldwide.

The Good-ish


Actually has pretty reasonable cannabis legislation. It was, after all, the first country to legalize (2013) recreational consumption. Thanks to these law changes, the plant is perfectly legal for people over 18 and is conveniently available at local pharmacies. There’s only one catch: Everyone who wants to sell, grow, or buy cannabis has to first register their intent with the government. Who knows what this list of cannabis buyers could possibly be used for. Paranoia? Maybe. But for all the outrageous stances on cannabis by world governments, this one passes muster.  Still, good for Uruguay. It’s most of the way toward sensible.

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This is cannabis paradise, right? Well, as it turns out, despite the worldwide fame of cannabis-friendly coffee shops, the Netherlands has some pretty odd policies about it. I mean, it’s mostly illegal to grow cannabis within the country. In fact, most coffee shops have to purchase their cannabis on the country’s black market — or risk going without it. What?

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Image credit: Steven Bostock

And it’s not as though these laws go unenforced either. Netherlands police regularly conduct raids on growers who have more than the legally mandated five plants (for personal use). So the message is: “Cannabis is perfectly fine to use, but not to grow and not to sell. Oh, and you can only buy it at coffee houses. Other than that, we don’t care! Aren’t we progressive?”

The Bad


Thailand has surprisingly tough cannabis laws — despite its reputation for producing some of the best cannabis strains in the world for going on 20 years. Although the Southeast Asian nation has legalized medicinal cannabis, Thai law still carries severe punishments for recreational users. Officially, Thailand places cannabis as a category 5 narcotic drug, which puts it in the same grouping as opiates and magic mushrooms. For people in possession of cannabis, punishment can run up to 15 years in a Thai jail. All this, despite being one of the biggest cannabis exporters in the world. Go figure.


Also in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has long been known as a terrible place to enjoy cannabis. Planting a single seed would result in a lifelong prison sentence and public shame for your family for generations. But a recent political sea of change in the country has resulted in new attitudes from citizens and lawmakers. Now, life sentences may be shortened and there’s even talk of becoming the first nation in the region to legalize recreational usage. That’s progress!

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The Very, Very, Very Bad


If you go up against the Singaporean authorities with your cannabis, you’re in for a bad time. The infamously draconian regime is a tough spot for any lawbreaking citizen or tourist. This region is famous for handing out ridiculously harsh penalties for offenses like chewing gum (the first time penalty for selling gum is $100,000 fine and up to two years in prison). It is no surprise that its drug laws run to the far right of Nixon. Getting caught with any amount of cannabis will result in a hefty fine (seven figures) and maybe a public caning — or even the death penalty! It all depends. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you have more than 18 ounces of cannabis, it’s an automatic death sentence. Yikes.

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Image credit: Malayalam News Daily

Saudi Arabia

The regressive regime of oil-rich Saudi Arabia punishes cannabis possession with lengthy prison stays and whippings for good measure. For a kingdom that doesn’t allow alcohol, accepting cannabis is simply a bridge too far. They even forbid rapper Nelly from mentioning cannabis at a recent concert, under penalty of law. However, justice is rarely dispensed impartially in the country, and who you know, who you bribe, and who you are will greatly affect how you’re treated under the blind of eye of Middle Eastern justice

The Progressive?


For all its authoritarian impulses, China’s cannabis laws are surprisingly lenient. While the substance has been illegal since 1985 and the government officially has a zero-tolerance policy, it’s not all that hard to procure cannabis on the streets of most major Chinese cities. The worst that offenders will get is a few days in jail and a fine.

United States

This country has no unity in terms of cannabis laws. Some states allow medical cannabis only, others also permit recreational use. Cannabis is federally illegal and remains a Schedule 1 substance with no accepted medical value. There are rumors that things are changing, chatter on the internet that President Trump is about to make a big change. But. or now, the USA gets a ‘partially progressive’ rating.

It is hoped that this article will quickly become outdated as cannabis advocates push for legalization and more and more voting citizens increase their knowledge about the economic, medicinal, and social benefits of cannabis. In the meantime, congratulations Canada for legalizing recreational consumption of cannabis!

Author avatar

Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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