Marijuana laws loosen gradually around the globe

(Source)  During a recent rise in drug violence along the Mexican border, many critics of the drug war have called for a change in U.S. policy toward marijuana use.

Worldfocus compares current marijuana policy throughout the U.S. to policy in Europe and the rest of the world.

The American decriminalization of marijuana has been a gradual process, with New Jersey becoming the 14th state to allow marijuana for medical use in January.

This map shows 15 states that allow medical marijuana, including Maryland — a state not often included because the law there only reduces penalties for medical marijuana use.

Following New Jersey’s change, Emily S. Rueb wrote in the New York TimesCity Room about the potential for medical marijuana in New York:

But though 14 states have now legalized medical marijuana, New York, which has relatively liberal possession laws and actually passed a medical-marijuana law in 1980 but never put it to use, remains forbidden ground for those who seek to relieve their symptoms with cannabis. This year, however, supporters of medical marijuana in Albany and elsewhere hope to harness what they see as growing momentum.

In an October 2009 Gallup poll, 54 percent of Americans said they were opposed to legalizing marijuana, while 44 percent — a historical high — said they were in favor of legalization.

Across the Atlantic, countries such as the Netherlands are famous for allowing the personal use and sale of marijuana, while many other European nations have decriminalized the drug to varying levels.

The Czech Republic legalized the cultivation of up to five marijuana plants for personal use on January 1. Here’s a map showing the range of European marijuana restrictions:

The status of marijuana laws in Europe. (Iceland not to scale). Map: Wikimedia Commons

Europeans’ attitudes towards marijuana decriminalization are not as simple as some might assume. In his blog Travel as a Political Act,  travel writer Rick Steves discusses the real Dutch view of marijuana policy:

The Dutch are not necessarily “pro-marijuana.” In fact, most have never tried it or even set foot in a coffeeshop. They just don’t think the state has any business preventing the people who want it from getting it in a sensible way. To appease Dutch people who aren’t comfortable with marijuana, an integral component of the coffeeshop system is discretion. It’s bad form to smoke marijuana openly while walking down the street. Dutch people who don’t like pot don’t have to encounter or even smell it.  And towns that don’t want coffeeshops don’t have them. Occasionally a coffeeshop license will not be renewed in a particular neighborhood, as the city wants to keep a broad smattering of shops (away from schools) rather than a big concentration in any one area.

In Latin America too, drug laws have begun to loosen up, after decades of zero-tolerance policies. Mexico recently decriminalized the possession of up to 5 grams (0.18 oz.) of marijuana for personal use.

Global Voices blogger Issa Villarreal writes about the popular response to Mexico’s shift:

Reactions are mixed, but certainly two things always came up in discussions: the situation of violence and murder in several Mexican cities related to the narco and drug trafficking, and also the haste approval. It can be said that an important part of the distribution of the story was “hand to hand” through social networks and re-publishing in independent media, but not properly from newspapers, which also carries some critique. Among the discussions, the difference between legalization and decriminalization was a frequent one, considering that the latter holds specific limits of use.

Also from Global Voices, Juliana Rincón Parra writes about citizen groups around the world pushing for legalization:

There are groups of people advocating for the legalization of drugs, but what would that actually mean? From Hungary to Colombia, from youth to teachers, from cops and clergy, individuals and groups are taking to citizen media to put forth their arguments regarding this potentially controversial subject.

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