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Where cannabis is legal in South America in 2021

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rsz_path_5921 Medical cannabis
Illegal (includes decriminalization)

Where is weed legal in South America? In 2013, Uruguay made international news when it became the first country in the world to fully legalize recreational cannabis, and in the years since, the majority of countries on the continent have passed legislation or lessened the legal penalties for marijuana possession, use, and cultivation. Most have taken measures to set up legal, regulated medical cannabis programs. The situation across the continent for the most part still lags behind that of its neighbors in North America, but in recent years, legalization and normalization advocates in South America have had ample reason for optimism about what the future will bring. 

In the meantime, take a look at where things stand on marijuana legalization in South America.

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Medical
Decriminalzation
Decriminalization
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Recreational
Argentina
  • Medical: Yes 
  • Recreational: No  

Argentina has a legal medical marijuana program and allows home cultivation for medical purposes. The country does not have a legal recreational cannabis program but it has effectively decriminalized the possession of cannabis for personal use. 

In 2020, the government of Argentina legalized home cultivation of cannabis for medical use, a revision to a 2017 law that legalized the medicinal use of cannabis oils. The law also allows for the sale of cannabis oils and topicals in local pharmacies, and guarantees access to medical marijuana free of charge

A 2009 Supreme Court ruling (known as “the Arriola ruling”) stated that the prosecution of people for possession of weed for personal use was unconstitutional. The ruling did not decriminalize cannabis outright, or quantify what constitutes personal use, rather, it ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose criminal penalties for personal use in Argentina. 

Bolivia
  • Medical: Illegal 
  • Recreational: Illegal 

The cultivation, possession, or sale of cannabis for medical or recreational reasons remains illegal in Bolivia as of early 2021.

Though then-president Evo Morales in 2017 signed a law to increase the amount of land in Bolivia for legal farming of the coca plant (from which cocaine is derived), the Andean country has been slow to make progress on decriminalization or legalization of cannabis in any form. 

There could potentially be some reason for optimism though. In 2019, a Bolivian congresswoman attended an international seminar on medical cannabis in Santiago, Chile, and upon her return expressed optimism about the cause of legalization of medical marijuana in Bolivia. The congresswoman, Brigida Quiroga, is among the promoters of a bill to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. 

Brazil
  • Medical: Legal 
  • Recreational: Decriminalized (small level possession and home growing) 

Brazil has a legal, regulated medical marijuana program and has ended incarceration for small-scale personal possession and/or cultivation. 

In 2019, the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA) approved regulations for cannabis based products, as well as guidelines for manufacture, import, sale, packaging, marketing, and regulation of cannabis-derived products. At the same time, ANVISA also issued rules rejecting the domestica cultivation of medical marijuana, but allowing bulk imports and sales of cannabis products in pharmacies. 

Since 2015, Brazilians with medical prescriptions have been allowed to legally import CBD products. Under the 2019 measure, terminally ill patients are allowed to purchase products with more than 0.2% THC, though for anyone else only products with less than 0.2% THC are legal for sale. 

Cannabis possession remains illegal in Brazil, though as of 2006, under Law No. 11,343, the state doesn’t pursue incarceration for possession or cultivation for personal use, and opts instead for “alternative punishments,” running from a warning, to community service and/or an educational course.  

Chile
  • Medical: Legal
  • Recreational: Decriminalized

Chile has a legal medical marijuana program and has decriminalized the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use. 

The government of Chile in 2014 approved the importation of cannabis-derived medicine Sativex in 2014, as well as a medical marijuana pilot program. Also in 2014, the government began allowing the operation of a large scale cannabis cultivation farm outside of Santigao, for the production of cannabis oil for cancer patients. 

While personal marijuana use has been decriminalized in Chile since 2005, in 2014, President Michelle Bachelet signed an executive order that removed marijuana from the list of dangerous drugs and legalized medical cannabis, which went into effect in 2015.  Cannabis-derived medicines first became available in Chilean pharmacies in 2017. Cultivation of up to six cannabis plants for personal use is legal in Chile, as is possession of less than 500 grams of weed. The country also allows the public possession of up to 10 grams. 

Colombia
  • Medical: Legal 
  • Recreational: Decriminalized 

Colombia has legalized medical cannabis and decriminalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use. 

In 2012, Colombia decriminalized the possession of cannabis for personal use (up to 20 grams), and just three years later, the country’s supreme court ruled that cultivation of up to 20 cannabis plants is not a crime. 

Also in 2015, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree legalizing and establishing a system of regulation for medical marijuana. The decree allows for the cultivation, processing, import,and export of cannabis and its derivatives for medical and scientific use. 

Legal adult-use cannabis may be on the horizon in Colombia as well, after the congress of Colombia in late 2020 advanced two bills to regulate the production and consumption of cannabis for recreational adult use. 

Ecuador
  • Medical: Legal (hemp, up to 1% THC) 
  • Recreational: Decriminalized 

Ecuador has a limited legal medical cannabis program and has decriminalized of a small amount of marijuana for personal use. 

Cannabis is illegal in Ecuador but in 2013, the county’s National Council of Narcotics Control ruled that possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis would be decriminalized for personal use. The sale of any amount of cannabis remains highly illegal. 

In July 2020, the country legalized the cultivation of cannabis that has up to 1% THC, and placed responsibility for hemp cultivation and regulation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

Falkland Islands
  • Medical: Illegal
  • Recreational: Illegal

The Falkland Islands do not have legal medical marijuana and recreational cannabis remains illegal. 

Cannabis and cannabis resin are included on the Falkland Islands government Misuse of Drugs (Designation) Order from 1989. In the Misuse of Drugs Ordinance 1987, cannabis is considered a Class B drug, with potential penalties for possession reaching 5 years’ imprisonment. 

The ordinance also states that it is illegal “to cultivate any plant of the genus Cannabis,” with the penalty listed as 7 years imprisonment. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) is considered a class A drug under the ordinance. 

Guyana
  • Medical: illegal 
  • Recreational: illegal  

Cannabis remains illegal in Guyana, though in July, 2019 the cabinet approved a proposal to remove custodial sentences for anyone in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana. The country does not have a legal medical marijuana program. 

Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act, cannabis, including “any plant of the genus Cannabis, by whatever name called, and includes any part of that plant,” is illegal, and possession of more than 15 grams is considered a trafficking offence.

Under the control act, any person “who has in his possession any narcotic” can be sentenced to a fine of at least 30,000 dollars and imprisonment of no less than three years. People caught using controlled substances including cannabis can face a fine of at least 6,000 dollars and imprisonment of at least one year.  

Marijuana is widely grown and consumed in Guyana, including in the local Rastafarian community, which in 2015 held a protest outside the attorney general’s office to call for decriminalization. 

Paraguay
  • Medical: legal 
  • Recreational: Decriminalized (possession of up to 10 grams)

Known as “the cannabis breadbasket of South America,” and the biggest marijuana producer in the continent, Paraguay also has relatively progressive laws on cannabis, including a legal medical marijuana program and the decriminalization of possession for personal use.  

In May 2017, the Paraguayan government authorized the importation of cannabis oil for medical purposes under the authority of the health ministry. That same year, the congress legalized medical marijuana and approved a bill to create a state-sponsored system to import cannabis seeds and cultivate cannabis for medical use under the authority of the state.

Patients can receive medical cannabis through the Ministry of Public Health. Under the country’s medical marijuana program only the state can cultivate or produce marijuana. 

In 2017, the country also removed cannabis from its most dangerous drugs list. 

Peru
  • Medical: legal 
  • Recreational: illegal

Peru has a legal medical marijuana program and has decriminalized the possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use. Cultivation remains illegal. 

In 2017, the Peruvian congress approved the produce, import, and trade of cannabis and its derivatives for medical and therapeutic purposes. In 2019, the government announced that the country’s first imported medical cannabis product (a high CBD, low THC oil) was now available for patients. 

According to Article 299 of the criminal code, possession of drugs for personal use – including up to eight grams of marijuana or two grams of its derivatives, is legal. Growing, producing, or selling cannabis is punishable by a prison term of 8-15 years. 

Suriname
  • Medical: illegal
  • Recreational: illegal

Cannabis remains illegal in Suriname though since 2018 cannabis cultivation is no longer in the country’s criminal code. The country now has a legal cannabis cultivation program, and produces hemp for the production of CBD for medical purposes, mainly for export.  

Uruguay
  • Medical: Legal 
  • Recreational: Legal 

Uruguay has legal recreational and medical cannabis programs, and retail sales of both are legally allowed in the country. 

Uruguay made international news in December 2013, when it became the first country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis use. That same year, the country legalized the 40 grams of cannabis per person per month in pharmacies, and the following year, legalized the cultivation of up to six plants. 

Legal marijuana sales began in pharmacies in 2017, though the level of THC, 9%, is low by the standard of legal programs in the United States and Canada. 

Uruguay also allows registered growers cubs, which are allowed to cultivate up to 99 plants annually. 

Venezuela
  • Medical: Illegal
  • Recreational: Illegal

Medical and recreational cannabis are illegal in Venezuela