President Biden pardons about 6,500 people last Thursday in an act to reform cannabis convictions across the United States. All of those pardoned were convicted for federal simple marijuana possession charges.

“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said as a call out to senior administration official to reconsider marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance.

What does Biden’s offer of mass pardons for people convicted of simple marijuana possession mean?

From data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 600,000 people were arrested for cannabis possessions in the United States. Many of these convictions from the arrests were a result of state cannabis charges, not federal. Only those charged with federal possession of marijuana were pardoned.

The 6,500 people pardoned were exclusively charged for federal cannabis possession, nothing else. Which means that the people pardoned are only a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of people arrested for marijuana related offenses.

How do the United States’ policies stack up against the rest of the world?

37 states in the U.S. have developed a medical cannabis program, 17 of which have also legalized cannabis to be recreational. The United States is still meetings its critical turning point in federal legalization, but it is not alone in where it stands with cannabis. Every country around the world is in its own spectrum of cannabis legality. Like the U.S., other countries may also have a complicated set of rules and regulations.

Countries with Recreational Cannabis

First, there are the recreational cannabis countries with similar laws as recreational states. Countries like Canada, Uruguay, and Malta have created national recreational cannabis programs, but still have restrictions in age, quantity, and means of transport like alcohol and tobacco.

Countries with Gray Area Cannabis Markets

Some countries have cannabis laws that may be reminiscent of states transitioning into recreational marijuana programs. South Africa for instance, has laws that prohibit the sale of cannabis, but has decriminalized private adult use. Thailand has a type of medical cannabis program in which it is illegal to consume cannabis if it is for “nonproductive” use.

Germany is in a similar position as the United States, as its most recent coalition government elected into office has pledged to legalize cannabis and create recreational programs.

Australia’s current cannabis laws are a little nuanced as medical cannabis is legal, and recreational use is only legal in the capital Canberra as well as its surrounding regions.

Netherlands may have the grayest market, in which cannabis is illegal, however, personal use in limited quantities is legal.

Robert Mikos, a professor who specializes in drug law at Vanderbilt University comments on the United States’ cannabis laws relative to the rest of the world. “Certainly, there are other countries that have liberal policies and are more consistent about it. But because we have so many states that have legalized adult recreational or medical use, I would count the U.S. as one of the more progressive countries.”

Is the world moving toward legalizing marijuana for personal use?

From the comparisons, Latin America and Africa seem to be having the most progressive cannabis laws around the world.

Reuters gave a report about a 2018 Constitutional Court decision in South Africa that decriminalized personal use. President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced with the court decision that his government will be doing their best to build up the country’s domestic cannabis sector.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 147 million people around the world have used cannabis in the past year. That’s 2% of the planet’s population! With this many people using cannabis, that places the substance as the most consumed drug in the world. As people ages 19 to 30 have reached record high use in the last year, cannabis consumption shows no signs of slowing down.

Asia is the one continent that may have the most polarizing cannabis laws. While countries like Thailand may have a slightly more liberal outlook on cannabis, countries like New Zealand and Singapore are more difficult to budge. New Zealand had flatly rejected recreational use, making cannabis only available via prescription. Singapore has zero tolerance on any drug including weed, and does not even have a medical cannabis program.

Does the mass pardon of marijuana possession have global significance?

The United States may have some influence on other countries in creating their cannabis laws. Since the 1960s, the U.S. has been viewed as a beacon for marijuana prohibition. Now that we are seeing about half of the states regulating some form of recreational or medical cannabis program, other countries are now seeing this as an indicator to begin experimenting with marijuana themselves.

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