A Look Back on the Last Decade – Major Events in Cannabis Around the World

Well, that was a…weird decade…

So many… just… bizarre events took place that I’d almost completely forgotten about. 

Remember the whole Charlie Sheen ‘tiger-blood-winning’ thing in 2011? How about when the world was supposed to end in 2012? What a letdown. Nothing but an apocalyptic tease.  Could anyone have guessed that this would be the decade where teenagers would start eating Tide pods like candy? Who could have predicted there would be so many deaths from selfies? Or any selfie deaths at all for that matter? How about planking? Remember planking? And fidget spinners?! All they did was…spin.

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Don’t get me wrong. While it has been an odd decade, to say the least, there was a lot of good throughout it, and hopefully, we can take the lessons we learned to have even better decade going forward.

In the last 10 years, human rights, for the most part, have progressed worldwide. I may live in a somewhat insulated bubble and be subject to confirmation bias, but I try and stay informed and from what I can tell, for the most part, people across the world are becoming more compassionate, empathetic, and caring for their fellow humans. Issues that used to divide previous generations are being put aside for the better of humanity. Obviously, this is not the case worldwide and many tragic conflicts wage on, but from what I can tell, younger generations are beginning to wake up to the reality of a shared world, rather than a divided one.

Cannabis in the 2010s

One movement that has seen a lot of progress over the last decade is the push to end cannabis prohibition. While many around the world are still subject to or are serving time for unjust cannabis laws, an increasing number of governing bodies have begun legalizing cannabis, both medically and even recreationally in some places. 

Cannabis – a victim of unjust politics and bad propaganda – is finally reclaiming its name as a herb that heals and should not be feared.

Let’s take a look back on the last 10 years and significant changes in cannabis that took place around the world. 

Cannabis in Canada

Medical cannabis began in Canada in the early 2000s due to pressures from Canadian patients living with severe and chronic health problems. In 2001 we became the second country to provide patients access to government-run medical cannabis programs.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won office in 2015, one of his campaign platforms was the legalization of recreational cannabis. In 2016, the country’s national poll revealed that the majority (7 out of 10 Canadians) were in favor of the move of legalizing recreational cannabis.

The major cannabis milestone of the decade in Canada was undoubtedly the nationwide legalization of recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018.  A year later, in October 2019, edibles (including beverages), topical’s, and extracts were also legalized.

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Despite what some may have you believe, the process has been far from perfect. Prices on licensed products are grossly inflated, only made worse by the insane amount of tax added on top of it. On top of that, the packaging offered seems to be created by people unaware of the rest of society’s shift away from plastic and other non-biodegradable products. If you’ve ever bought weed from a legal store you know it’s like opening a series of Russian dolls just to get to your dried weed. The proof has been clear as day in the underwhelming sales figures and the build-up of stock dating back to early 2018. One would assume that lowering the price of the older stock would be the obvious answer, as all it takes is a simple google search to know that cannabis loses its potency, smell, and taste over time. However, licensed distributors have refused to lower their prices at all.

This means as we enter the year 2020, if you want to purchase legal cannabis from a licensed producer, you could be paying up to $50 after tax for an 1/8th of flower that was grown and trimmed in 2018.

As of yesterday, Quebec has raised the age to buy cannabis to 21. Now an 18-year-old can vote, fight in the military, make pornography and of course buy alcohol, as Quebec is well known for, but have to wait another 3 years before they can smoke a joint. The lack of logic here is staggering.

Cannabis in the United States

Before the 2010’s cannabis had a slow but steady climb for acceptance and legalization which picked up towards the beginning of the decade.

Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis was first legalized in California in 1996, followed by Oregon and Washington, as well as Alaska and Maine. As the 2000s rolled in, other states followed – Nevada, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, and New Mexico, among others.

The most significant changed happened in the 2010s as other states’ medical cannabis prohibition laws, like dominoes, toppled one by one. New Jersey, Arizona, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Illinois, Utah, Minnesota, and New York all legalized medical cannabis.

By 2014, several states had also approved the use of low-THC, high-CBD medical marijuana products. These include Alabama, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, among others. Other states soon followed like Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico, Indiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma, etc.

There was also the 2018 Farm Bill which legalized the use of hemp and all its parts. This makes hemp-derived CBD legal in all states, giving patients access to this alternative form of medicine. The unfortunate reality of the situation however is that despite the passing of the bill, CBD is stuck in legal purgatory, as the FDA consistently puts up red tape preventing the regulation of the cannabinoid. By not regulating CBD products, even though their legal, customers are left vulnerable to fake or even potentially dangerous products.

I recently went on a trip to the US and saw blatantly fake CBD products in gas stations being sold next to other fake medications and, of course, fidget spinners. This trend of people capitalizing on an unchecked market is going to continue to resemble some sort of wild-west-of-fake-weed until the FDA steps up and, you know, does their job.

Recreational Cannabis

Major changes in the recreational cannabis landscape also began during the decade. In 2010, both Colorado, as well as Washington, legalized the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. They were the first two states to do so. By 2014, two other states followed suit – Alaska and Oregon. A couple of years later, four more states legalized recreational cannabis – California, and Nevada as well as Maine and Massachusetts. This was followed by Vermont in 2018 and then Michigan at the end of the year. As of the first of this month, Illinois also began recreational sales, though people are less than pleased about taxes higher than they could ever hope to be, among other worrying signs. 

Recreational and medical cannabis are also both legal in the District of Columbia, meaning the same politicians that fight for its continued prohibition in other states can forget about all their hypocrisy by smoking a large legal joint at the end of the day.

Not All Good News

Cannabis reform in the US is not without its setbacks. In fact, there are several reasons why we probably won’t see federal cannabis legalization in 2020.

One, you have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who, like Jeff Sessions, is afraid of the cannabis-boogie-man. It’s like these guys saw Reefer Madness when they were kids and just stopped accepting new information about cannabis after that. As long as he remains the Senate Majority Leader, cannabis reform will always have an ardent opponent on Capitol Hill.

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Dude is afraid of a good time.

Two, legalizing weed could also cause money complications for Congress. Cannabis companies are forced to pay high taxes since their products are still technically a Schedule I Substance. Should weed be legalized, their tax rate could decrease, resulting in a potential five billion-dollar revenue reduction.

Unfortunately, Congress’ stubbornness prevents them from seeing the potential opportunity for even more revenue from taxes from the sales of cannabis nationwide. I’m not an economist but I would think that whatever money they are making from taxing these few companies that they allow to exist would be dwarfed by the amount they could make from taxing its sale across the country. 

As evidenced by the lack of action of climate change, Congress’ shortsightedness is a long-running theme that spares no potential issue or threat.

The reality is that Republicans still have control over the Senate until January 2021. As we discussed previously in our blog on the UK’s relationship with cannabis prohibition, conservatives aren’t exactly known for their support of cannabis reform. However, if the most recent vote to allow cannabis access to Federal Banks is any indication, this conservative mindset may be shifting. The younger generation of rising Republicans may not necessarily share the same opinions on cannabis prohibition as their parents before them

Turning Tides

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Fake THC Cartridges like these are a perfect example of the need for regulation.

It’s still too early to tell though. A lot needs to happen first, the most significant by far being the November 2020 election where the Republican party’s loyalty will put to arguably its toughest test to date. Trump’s actions throughout, not only the last 4 years but his life as a whole have stood in stark contrast to so much of the moral framework of not only the Republican party but the United States as a whole. The Republican Trump base will obviously be voting for him, but will conflicted and more moderate Republicans make the same decisions as they did in 2016?

Should the Democrats win more seats in the Senate, they can take control and real cannabis reform could find traction in both chambers.

If the Democrats win the next presidential election, legalization is almost an inevitability. 

Dangers of Continued Prohibition

If the unjust nature of cannabis laws were not enough to fuel the support necessary for legalization and the resulting regulation, perhaps the increasing dangers users face will suffice. This summer we saw a vaping crisis that brought THC cartridges into the mainstream spotlight. It has become clear that as long as the government refuses to regulate these products, there will always be bad actors that will use dangerous ingredients to save money to turn a higher profit. We saw this with synthetic cannabis (also known as Spice) before and now it’s continued with fake vape cartridges. This refusal, based on nothing more than anachronistic ideologies, to regulate a plant that has shown to be both effective for medical use and safe for recreational use will continue to leave customers vulnerable to future risks.

Cannabis in Europe

There have also been significant changes in the European cannabis landscape during this decade. In 2010, several countries decriminalized cannabis possession or reduced penalties. These include the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Croatia, Austria, among others.

Several European countries have also legalized the use of medical cannabis starting in 2010 – Denmark, Italy, Romania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, North Macedonia, Poland, Norway Germany, Luxembourg, Greece, Denmark, Portugal, and Ireland.

Netherlands

In one of the more bizarre turns of the decade, Amsterdam fought to shake it’s cannabis paradise reputation, with only minor success. Cannabis has never technically been legal in the Netherlands, yet the government allowed coffee-shops (the name given to cannabis cafes) to run for years without much pushback. This was until around 2012 when coffee-shops were told they could no longer sell to tourists in an effort to curb cannabis tourism.

While many cities and districts have complied with the new rules, most coffee-shops in Amsterdam seemingly did not get the message as they continue to allow foreigners to purchase the same as they would anyone else. I was there two years ago and was very concerned while reading the new rules, however, I was met with some amazing hash and zero questions about my residency upon arrival. A massive amount of Amsterdam’s income comes from cannabis tourism, and eliminating it entirely would be economically irresponsible. And for what? The Netherlands makes 400 million euros in tax from cannabis each year, and that’s not to mention how much the economy of big cities like Amsterdam rely on cannabis tourism, whether those in charge want to admit it or not.

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Cannabis in Barcelona.

Spain

There was a time leading into the last decade where Barcelona looked as though it could become the new Amsterdam, with an increasing number of private smoking clubs opening across the city. However, the reality has been far from a weed utopia and the future of cannabis clubs is still somewhat in the air. I went to Barcelona in 2016 expecting to find similar cannabis tourism to Amsterdam, but I was instead met with a lot of pushback. I befriended my AirB&B host who took me to his local cannabis club. It was completely unmarked and had tight security. After 5 minutes of heated discussion in Spanish with the woman at the door, during which I think my new friend managed to convince her that I had just moved there, he was able to get me into the club. The selection was comparable to Amsterdam and it was a fun, albeit weird, experience but not exactly what you’d hope to find in the supposed new capital of weed tourism.

UK

The UK is like that person at the party who claims they’re having a horrible time, says their leaving and calls a cab, only to then stick around for hours complaining and trying to compromise about having to leave. We covered the UK’s last decade with cannabis in a previous blog.

Cannabis in Asia

Asia’s reputation as the continent with the strictest drug laws remained the same throughout the decade. If you’re caught possessing cannabis, not only can it land you in jail for years but, in some countries like Malaysia, you could also lose your life. In the Philippines, dictator Rodrigo Duterte has overseen countless drug raids on cannabis users  by his infamously brutal death squads, as well as spurred on vigilantes. Thousands have been executed as a direct result of Duterte’s policies. Duterte, who has spoken about his desire to kill all drug dealers, also revealed that he himself uses cannabis for medical purposes. He, of course, backtracked and tried to claim he was joking but few are convinced. The man is killing people for using and selling the same thing that he takes ‘to help stay awake’, which, as a side note doesn’t even make sense I’ve never known anybody to use weed to wake up. 

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Duterte

It was not a decade devoid of any progress, however, as medical cannabis was legalized in several countries such as Thailand and South Korea. Even then, access to medicine is another issue altogether, only made harder by South Korea’s restrictions on the actual plant. This means South Korean medical cannabis patients can only use cannabis derivates, such as Sativex, produced in the UK.

Ongoing protests in Hong Kong opposing China’s interference in their government have already brought change and the protestors show no signs of slowing down. Will one of the eventual outcomes be a more progressive view on drug policy and in turn cannabis prohibition?

Australia and New Zealand

In Australia, medical cannabis was legalized in 2016. However, despite an ever-growing cannabis community, recreational cannabis remains illegal in the whole country, except in the Australian Capital Territory where recreational cannabis will be legalized at the end of January this year. 

New Zealand will have a referendum this year to voice opinions on legalizing cannabis for recreational use. To the dismay of frustration of many advocates, a win for the yes vote will not necessarily mean a change in legislation and a majority vote in parliament will still be required. Nevertheless, this is a huge step forward and a chance for people to be heard. Whether or not their government will listen is another matter altogether.

Cannabis in South America 

This decade saw the legalization of medical cannabis in countries like Argentina, Columbia, Peru (only cannabis oil), while others like Chile and Columbia also decriminalized recreational possession.

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Cannabis being grown in Uruguay.

Uruguay made by far the most progress in terms of cannabis, as it was legalized both recreationally and medically in 2013. The law still prevents tourists from buying cannabis and only the government can grow weed to be sold. While this may be frustrating for potential cannabis tourists and those within the country who want to be able to provide industry to meet that demand, this is still a massive step in the right direction and can hopefully serve as an example for other South American countries to follow.

In 2018 it was ruled that laws Mexico’s laws enforcing cannabis prohibition were unconstitutional. The Mexican government now has until April to approve legislation that legalizes cannabis. If done correctly, Mexico could very well take the mantle as the number one cannabis tourist destination in the world. People already flock to the country for its incredible food, culture and beautiful landscapes. Just imagine if they added a nice selection of strains to the all-inclusive resorts…

Africa

In 2018 South Africa decriminalized cannabis for adults 18 and above, but the law only allows for use inside private residences. The sale of cannabis remains illegal so there is no system in place at this time for a recreational market, but if other countries continue legalizing for recreational purposes it may just be a matter of time.

Israel

While legalization may still be ways down the line, Israel is one of the biggest figures in the medical cannabis world. Some of the most important medical cannabis research has come out of Israel, thanks to dedicated figures such as Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. Recreational use is essentially decriminalized for up to 14 grams and home use.

Final Thoughts

How you choose to look at the world is up to you. Since the beginning of recorded history, there has always been at least one person convinced that this is the worst the world has ever been. This person has always existed.

At the same time, there are those that are able to look at the world from another angle and see all the good that it has to offer.

Most of us lie somewhere in the middle.

The past decade has brought an unquantifiable amount of both sorrow and joy and it is important to recognize and acknowledge each aspect. Both to be thankful for what we have received and to learn and grow from our mistakes and what we’ve lost. The world remains a beautiful place, full of beautiful people with good hearts and honest intentions. The progress that we’ve made over the last decade, not only in cannabis but in human rights is something to be proud of.

We are not done though. We must continue to fight for what is right. That includes cannabis legalization. This is really only the beginning. We can always do better. And we will. It’s what makes us human.

 

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of Just Cannabis and its employees. 

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