The World Drug Report published by the United Nations offers constant reports and analysis about the level of consumption and production of substances such as cannabis. According to one of the last research studies, Spain is among the ten countries with the highest number of marijuana consumers; specifically, in ninth place.
The ten countries in the world with the greatest number of cannabis users according to the 2015 United Nations World Drug Report are Iceland, Zambia, the United States, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Canada, Bermuda, Spain and Australia, some are a result of legalisation and others of tradition: These are the circumstances:
According to the UN report, Iceland is the country with the largest number of cannabis consumers, despite the fact that growing, selling and consumption are all illegal and the fines are very high (hence why it is difficult to obtain the plant). Medical cannabis is also forbidden, although some medicines created with marijuana are allowed, such as Sativex. Despite this, the president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is open to legalisation and has admitted on several occasions that the war against drugs was lost a long time ago. Also, he believes that if the sale of alcohol is allowed, there is no reason to ban cannabis.
Zambia is second on the list. It is one of the poorest countries on the planet and has a long tradition of growing the plant, and especially over the last few years, it has taken precedence over other crops such as corn or rice, given that its market price is much higher. Crops are mostly grown in the north and northeast of the country and the sativa varieties are very well-known throughout the entire region. Despite the fact that the plant has not been legalised, anyone can buy it easily in many urban areas, although always discreetly. It is perhaps because of this that arrests for growing and selling have been increasing since 2009. However, there are still those who maintain hope that the situation will change. Specifically, the country’s Green Party is trying to convince the public of the benefits of cannabis, beyond consumption itself: legal commerce could be used to help the economy and replace some professions such as mining.
The United States is one of the worldwide benchmarks in terms of legalisation; therefore it is not surprising that it ranks third in the list. Some weeks ago, Oregon became the fourth state in the United States where smoking cannabis is permitted for recreational purposes. It follows in the footsteps of Alaska, Colorado and Washington, who had already regulated marijuana at earlier dates. The forecasts for cannabis activists in the country are very encouraging, despite the fact that there is a standstill at a federal level. As things stand, 18 American states have depenalised the plant and 23 (along with Washington D.C. and Guam) have approved laws supporting the legalisation of medical marijuana.
Although Italy has always been one of the countries that has most persecuted cannabis, the level of consumption is very high, perhaps because the last political measures seem to have softened the intensity of prohibition, at least in relation to medical use. Some months ago, the country announced that its Army would grow marijuana for medical use in the province of Florence, and a councillor from Verona proposed planting it on land in the city. In March, the senator Benedetto Della Vedova suggested legalising the plant; his idea has already been backed by more than 220 members of parliament.
5. New Zealand
Despite being fifth on the list, New Zealand is going through a bad period (the worst in the last 15 years) due to the severe shortage of cannabis. Although the real causes are unknown, some suspect that police attacks could be behind it, especially following several arrests and the seizure of plants. As some growers have explained, the situation has become nightmarish for consumers, who are doing everything possible to obtain the plant at any price.
In June, the National Drugs Agency announced that it would not regulate cannabis, despite the growing call for legalisation that is now being heard in the country and the musical initiatives that have emerged with the aim of strengthening the request. The news is not surprising, especially due to the country’s strict policies relating to the plant and the persecution suffered by smokers. Cannabis has quite a short history in the country. The plant arrived relatively late in comparison with other parts of Africa: it is believed that it arrived with soldiers and sailors who fought abroad during the Second World War and it has been grown since the 60’s of the 20th century.
This June, Canada legalised marijuana oils and foodstuffs for medicinal purposes, as well as any type of medical cannabis consumption. The country’s Supreme Court believes that restricting use violates a patient’s right to freedom and safety. Also, more than a year ago, the Government regulated growing the plant for medical purposes, and the measure was warmly welcomed by the public. Since then, the Ministry of Health has received approximately twenty petitions per week requesting growing licenses. Furthermore, Vancouver became the first city in the country to approve legislation for regulating illegal marijuana shops. For the City Council, it is an attempt to control the market in a city where it is believed that there are more shops for this product than there are cafes.
Bermuda is a British territory located in the Atlantic Ocean and its citizens have long demanded a reform of laws relating to cannabis. The last surveys show that 79.3% of voters want the law to be more flexible than it currently is. Additionally, at the end of last year, the Government explained that it had plans to legalise marijuana for medical use and to carry out more scientific studies on the uses of cannabinoids.
In Spain, the Supreme Court has adopted a strict approach on cannabis associations that have spent a long time fight for regulation of clubs that would prevent legal confusion and give clubs greater control over the marijuana they produce and consume. The sentence handed down to Ebera, an association in Vizcaya, led to a prison sentence for its leaders for a crime against public health. This is serious news for the Spanish community and a clear step backwards on a legal level. Also, according to lawyers and activists, the coming into effect of the so-called Gag Law is a regressive step with regard to the rights of the country’s consumers, who will know face heavier sentences than with previous laws.
In June, Australia made the news when a grandfather donated around 30 million euros (34 million dollars) to the University of Sydney to help finance research into medical cannabis and help his three year old granddaughter who has epilepsy. The situation contrasts with another from the start of the year, when a father was arrested for having used medical marijuana to medicate his daughter who was suffering from cancer. At the moment, the country continues to prohibit recreational use and allows medical use with certain restrictions.
The circumstances in these countries are very different, although each shows that many people defend the consumption of cannabis and fight to obtain it. However, there is still a long way to go in order to ensure that use and production are no longer punished. The United States will always be a benchmark.