The debate surrounding marijuana’s classification as a drug is hotly debated and intrinsically linked to the question of whether it should be legalized or not. The vast differences in the way nations across the globe, and even different states or provinces within those nations, classify and regulate marijuana has resulted in governments wading into controversial territory to repeal, draft and implement laws that have far reaching implications for millions of marijuana users. In some countries, marijuana is as illegal as any other drug and harsh prison sentences are imposed for mere consumption. In other countries, punishment for marijuana use ranges from a fine, to no punishment at all. In the United States, all three are possible outcomes depending on the state you live in. Regardless, the ten countries that consume the most marijuana are as diverse as their respective laws that govern marijuana usage. With statistics from the United Nations World Drug Report that calculates the percentage of a country’s population who has used marijuana at least once in the past year, here are the ten countries that consume the most marijuana around the world.
10 Jamaica: 9.86% of the population
Jamaica may have long been associated with marijuana in popular culture, but according to the United Nations, less than 10% of the population reportedly consumes it. That may be because up until recently marijuana had always remained a controlled substance in the country under Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act. Times are changing on the island nation however, as the Jamaican government has voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well as marijuana use for religious and medical purposes, by the end of 2014. Though not the first time Jamaica has attempted to decriminalize pot, it is the first time the government is confident that they will not receive a backlash or sanctions from the United States, following similar moves of decriminalization in America.
9 Australia: 10.3% of the population
With over one third of the population having tried it at least once in their lifetime, marijuana is the most widely consumed drug in Australia. With over a quarter of a million Australians admitting to smoking marijuana on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that the country has taken a less harsh criminal approach to users in favor of a focus on harm reduction. Though there has been an ongoing debate in Australia since the 1970s over whether to legalize marijuana or not, the drug remains illegal, and depending on the nature and severity of the crime i.e. drug trafficking or commercial cultivating, the penalties can be severe, up to and including life in prison. For most personal users, fines and admission to a mandatory drug treatment program are common if convicted.
8 Spain: 10.6% of the population
Marijuana is legal for personal use in Spain, so you can grow your own and smoke it without legal concern, but it is illegal to cultivate with intent to sell. Spain actually has an interesting drug policy, not just in regards to marijuana but for harder drugs as well. The major loophole concerning drugs in Spain is that any drug one possesses and uses in their own home is decriminalized, giving Spain one of the most liberal drug policies in all of Europe. Furthermore, marijuana is considered especially inconsequential in a criminal context. In fact, in 2013 the former director of the Spanish National Drug Strategy proclaimed that marijuana was “not a drug” and advocates for the legalisation of marijuana and the industry associated with it.
7 Canada: 12.2% of the population
Canada has an interesting history with marijuana. In fact, many people think marijuana is legal in the Great White North. Even with nearly 50% of the population admitting to having tried marijuana at least once, and over 12% of the population smoking it every day, the drug has never been legal in Canada. Though the Liberal government attempted to decriminalize marijuana twice in the early 2000s, neither bill was successful. Since the election of a Conservative government in the later 2000s there has actually been an increased push to penalize cannabis users, with some of the pressure coming from the American side of the border. That said, medicinal marijuana is by and large legal and many federal possession and personal use laws go unenforced throughout most provinces, essentially decriminalizing it. Beyond Canada’s conservative constituents, there is also a very large push from liberal politicians, doctors and marijuana advocates to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol.
6 Nigeria: 14.3% of the population
Nigeria has a thriving marijuana culture, with some estimating nearly 22% of the population uses the drug regularly. The number of young people, aged 10-19, admitting to using marijuana is roughly 18%. A very high rate of usage despite the fact that the drug is illegal and there have been nearly 3 million cannabis-related arrests in Nigeria in the past 25 years. Though there is a growing culture within Nigeria that advocates legalizing marijuana, the Nigerian National Drug Law Enforcement Agency maintains that: “cannabis is highly addictive… most heinous crimes are committed under the influence (of cannabis) and that users may eventually suffer a psychotic breakdown.”
5 New Zealand: 14.6% of the population
While marijuana is the most widely used drug in New Zealand, with a reported 15% of the population using it more than 10 times a month, it doesn’t come without potential consequences for New Zealanders. The Misuse of Drugs Act that became law in 1975 makes the possession of any type of cannabis illegal, with penalties ranging from a fine for personal possession to 14 years in jail for manufacturing. Though there has been some political advocacy to eliminate penalties for those over 18 years of age in possession of marijuana for personal use, these efforts have been met with resistance in Parliament. Furthermore, a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana was defeated in 2009, maintaining New Zealand’s stiff stance on marijuana for the foreseeable future.
4 Italy: 14.6% of the population
There was good news for the 14.6% of Italians that regularly smoke marijuana in 2014. Italy ruled this year that personal use of cannabis be decriminalized, finally striking down draconian cannabis laws that, before 2014, saw the penalties in Italy regarding marijuana on par with those regulating drugs like heroin and cocaine. While the decriminalization of possession of pot is a step in the right direction, growing marijuana, even small amounts for personal use only, is still illegal and punishable by lengthy prison terms. Medical marijuana is also technically legal in Italy, though it is highly regulated.
3 United States: 14.8% of the population
According to studies, nearly four million Americans smoke marijuana on a daily basis and two out of every five have smoked it at some point in their lives. Furthermore, in two separate polls, between 46% and 56% of all Americans stated that they would vote in favor of legalizing marijuana. And yet, there may not be a country on the planet with more polarizing laws regulating cannabis depending on the state one lives in. Technically, cannabis is illegal throughout the United States, at least on the federal level, but many state laws have circumvented the federal government to create their own cannabis laws resulting in a varied degree of decriminalization. There are currently 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana while 14 states have decriminalized possession of cannabis to some degree. Colorado and Washington State have gone so far as to legalize cannabis altogether. In Colorado cannabis is legal, while in Louisiana, possession, even on a first time offense, could result in 5-30 years in jail.
2 Zambia: 14.8% of the population
Zambia not only consumes, but also produces a large amount of cannabis. With such a large amount of cannabis already being cultivated nationally via rural agriculture, there has been lobbying within the government to legalize marijuana. Amidst these calls to legalize marijuana from opposition parties in order to reduce crime amongst cannabis users and use profits to bolster the country’s GDP, the Zambian government has no plans whatsoever to legalize marijuana. Despite the high percentage of Zambians who smoke marijuana regularly, the penalties for possession alone are harsh, potentially resulting in up to 15 years in prison, making marijuana use a dangerous risk in the African nation.
1 Iceland: 18.3% of the population
Oft seen as a laid back Nordic nation, the laws governing cannabis in Iceland are far stricter than one would expect. It is illegal to posses, grow or sell marijuana in Iceland. Use of marijuana, even in small amounts can still result in prison time. Even still, 55,000 Icelanders use marijuana on a regular basis, and with a tiny population of only 320,000, this makes Iceland the highest cannabis consuming country in the world. While the reasons why nearly 20% of the population chooses to smoke marijuana are only speculated upon, the isolation of being a small island nation is thought to be one.