The debate about marijuana legalization is heating up all over the world. Aside from the usual 420-friendly destinations such as the Netherlands and Canada, other surprising countries where marijuana is legal include Uruguay, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Mexico. Even many typically strict countries such as Japan and Thailand have been moving towards legalizing medical consumption lately.

The United States of America and the United Kingdom have had a long and complicated relationship with cannabis, with neither going so far as full legalization.

But things are changing, as evidenced by the fact that medical marijuana is now legal in the UK (although it’s still tightly regulated). And while in the USA, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, many states have decriminalized it, and some have even legalized recreational use. 

This patchwork of laws can be confusing for both citizens and visitors alike. So, let’s take a closer look at the current state of marijuana legality in the UK and the USA.

Cannabis in the UK

The United Kingdom has a long history with cannabis, dating back to the time of the British Empire. King Henry VIII even imposed a hemp-growing mandate on farmers in the 1600s. However, it was only in the late 20th century that laws began to be put in place to criminalize its use. In 1971, possession of cannabis was made a criminal offense.

In 2018, the UK government made a monumental decision to legalize medical cannabis. This was a big win for patients and advocates who had long been campaigning for change. Medical cannabis is now available on prescription for certain conditions, although it’s still tightly regulated. Medical users are still a tiny fraction of the total number of people who use cannabis in the UK, but it’s still a significant step forward.

The future of cannabis in the UK is bright, with the government announcing plans to review the law on recreational use. Many organizations such as CLEAR and NORML UK are gaining ground in advocating further legal reforms. This could lead to full legalization in the next few years.

Cannabis in the USA

Cannabis has been used in the USA since the early days of colonization. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that laws began to be put in place to criminalize its use. Federal prohibition started in 1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. This made it illegal to grow, sell, or possess cannabis.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act placed cannabis in the most restrictive category (Schedule I), alongside drugs like heroin and LSD. This made it very difficult to research the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

Despite federal prohibition, many states have decriminalized or even legalized cannabis for recreational use. As of 2019, 10 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis. A further 33 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis. With most Americans now in favor of legalization, it’s only a matter of time until the federal government catches up.

A green light for hemp

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant that contains very low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound that gets you high. Hemp products are made from the plant’s flowers, leaves, and stalks. These parts of the plant contain high levels of CBD, a compound that has been shown to have numerous potential health benefits.

Hemp-derived cannabis products such as oils, gummies, and flowers are legal for sale and purchase in the USA and the UK. In the UK, hemp was legalized in 1993, following a review by the government. This made it possible for farmers to grow hemp for commercial purposes, and following a reclassification of CBD as a ‘novel food,’ many stores today offer hemp flower for sale. In the USA, hemp was legalized in 2018 with the passage of the Farm Bill.

Manufacturers can also synthesize legal hemp into Delta 8 and Delta 9 THC. These forms of THC are illegal in the UK but are permitted in some US states.

The future’s bright

Cannabis has a long history in the UK and USA, with laws that criminalize its use dating back to the early 20th century. However, in recent years there has been a shift towards decriminalization and even legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes.

 Hemp products such as CBD oil are legal for sale in both countries. The future of cannabis looks bright, with more and more states reforming their laws every year.

Tina Richardson is a passionate blogger who writes about health.