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Cannabis in Latin America – What You Didn’t Know

By Tia Moskalenko | 30 June, 2021

The United States has embraced legal cannabis with growing enthusiasm in the last ten years. Currently, 36 states allow for medical cannabis consumption, and another 14 have legalized it recreationally. These numbers seemingly grow with each election cycle as public opinion increasingly shifts towards broad acceptance of cannabis consumption.

South of the border, however, things aren’t nearly so green-friendly. While cannabis laws vary regionally, much of Latin America still retains stiff penalties for anyone caught in possession of even relatively minuscule amounts of cannabis.

In this article, we take a look at marijuana laws in Latin America. Read on to learn more about cannabis in Latin America.

What is Permissible?

Though cannabis laws remain stiff in Latin America, there has been something of a reform shift beginning in 2012 that has seen some nations moving towards more permissive attitudes. This evolving dynamic is seen to be largely influenced by the changing cannabis culture in the United States.

Those wondering is weed legal in Brazil or even about Chile marijuana laws may be pleased to note that these two nations are among the most lenient as the law applies to cannabis in Latin America. Current regulations in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay allow for some form of access to medical cannabis.

Developments of this kind are hopeful signs for a brighter future. Medical cannabis preceded recreational marijuana by almost twenty years in the United States, demonstrating that modest steps can lead to big results when given enough time.

However, that’s not to say that there isn’t a significant amount of work that needs to be done before Latin American cannabis culture can even begin to resemble what is taking place in the United States.

Rules and Regulations

Recreational cannabis is not legal in any of the countries that make up Latin America. That means that, with exceptions made for the nations listed above, cannabis possession will carry some form of punishment.

What that punishment is will depend largely on context. For example, possession of cannabis in Bolivia can result in jail time. Tourists, in particular, are known for being enticed into purchasing cannabis only to be arrested, with the expectation of a bribe eventually being used to mediate the situation.

In Venezuela, even small amounts of cannabis can result in up to two years in jail. And in Brazil, cannabis is known for being fairly ubiquitous but still punishable under law. Brazilian police are known for being particularly hard on internationals found in possession, with punishments ranging from fines to arrest.

However, it’s also fair to note that cannabis laws are not overly punitive in every corner of Latin America. While recreational cannabis consumption has not been legalized anywhere, it has been decriminalized in countries like Argentina. Not only is Argentina receptive to cannabis use in some form, but they are also an industry leader in the world of CBD, including involvement in a famous 2018 study regarding how CBD oil may help alleviate symptoms in epileptic children.

Chile has also decriminalized consumption of the plant and even allows residents to grow cannabis at home in small amounts without punishment—a more permissive law than even some of those in place in cannabis legal states in the USA.

Mexico, on the other hand, has been in a state of legal cannabis limbo for the last several years. All the way back in 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court declared that a federal ban on cannabis was illegal and demanded that congress produce a reform bill within the next three months.

Unfortunately for cannabis activists, this reform bill has been kicked around for years, with various extensions leading to very little progress being made on the subject. Still, the decision does signal a ring of hope for Latin Americans that wish to see cannabis reform take place within their lifetime. Though the wheels of bureaucracy have been slow to turn activists take solace to see them moving at all.

For now, opportunity in an economic sense continues to reside in nations that have embraced medical cannabis. In these countries, revenue potential exists in both the cultivation and sales of cannabis, causing many to view future prospects optimistically in Latin America, despite legal roadblocks.

Latin American Cannabis Industry

So, where does all of this leave the Latin American cannabis industry? Despite very stiff laws prohibiting the use and sales of cannabis products in most of Latin America, the industry has proven itself very lucrative.

Cannabis is expected to reach a market value of $300 million in Latin America by 2024—a significant sum when one considers the relatively modest legal market that is currently in place.

Conclusion

So what exactly is the future of cannabis in Latin America? Prospects certainly remain mixed, and every nation will ultimately direct its own cannabis culture. The same way that the United States and Canada do not take the exact same view of cannabis, so will this be the case of each individual nation in Latin America.

That said, Mexico may serve as a good indicator of what the rest of Latin America will do in the years to come. Mexico is one of the largest countries in the region, falling short only of Brazil. Additionally, their population also adequately reflects the mixed feelings that so much of Southern America seems to hold regarding legal cannabis.

Though it seems that some form of recreational cannabis provision is destined to hit the nation eventually, 58% actually oppose it. Seeing how Mexico deals with mixed public opinion on the divisive topic of legalization may serve as a road map for other countries considering similar measures in the years to come.

In any case, the monetary incentives are certainly very straightforward. It’s estimated that legalization will open up a $3.2 billion market in Mexico. As Latin America begins to experience the massive amounts of revenue and even tourism potential that legalization produces, attitudes may change.

Tia Moskalenko is a journalist, writer and contributor at AskGrowers


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