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Cannabis and law. Regulations and restrictions

The plant of cannabis has been used by humanity for over 5000 years for recreational and medicinal purposes, and it has been legal to consume and trade all around the world for the largest part of its history. It was only after the 19th century that the legal landscape started to undergo some changes and weed became tagged as an illegal substance. In this article we will take a look at the evolving legal framework and government policies regarding marijuana.

Cannabis in ancient cultures

There are historical documents that indicate cannabis was being used all around the globe since antiquity: from China to India, Greece, Egypt to even the native american tribes, the plant’s flowers, leaves and seeds were mixed into different infusions, tonics or smoked to treat pain, inflammation, digestive problems, anesthetize patients for surgery or to elevate the experiences of religious ceremonies. Up to the beginning of the 20th century the plant was being traded all around the globe and even in America people could purchase cannabis tonics in any general store.

How did cannabis become illegal?

During the early 1900s, as a consequence of the Mexican revolution and the armed conflict in that nation, there was an influx of Mexican immigrants into the United States. These immigrants brought with them their cultural practices, including the recreational use of cannabis, which they referred to as «marihuana» or «marijuana». The United States government launched an anti-immigrant campaign that focused on the demonization of cannabis use among Mexican communities and tried to associate the substance to the immigrants. Hence, the change in the name: ever since the plant began to be referred to as “marijuana” to make it sound foreign.

Racist religious propaganda followed, such as the infamous film «Reefer Madness,» depicted young people being lured into a world of moral decay, violence, insanity, and even murder as a result of their cannabis use. The exaggerated and sensationalized narrative aimed to instill fear and create public outrage against marijuana.

The Historical Context

After World War II, the United States emerged as a global superpower with significant influence on international policies. Through diplomatic efforts and international organizations such as the United Nations, the American government began to actively promote anti-narcotic policies, including the prohibition of marijuana, to other nations. 

Many countries, particularly those with close ties to the United States or seeking to maintain diplomatic relationships, adopted the approach and enacted laws criminalizing cannabis use and possession. This was often seen as a way to align with international norms and avoid potential repercussions in trade or international relations.

Current legal state

In recent years many countries changed the regulations surrounding marijuana. A growing body of scientific research has shed light on the potential medical benefits of the plant, which has helped debunk long-standing stigmas and misinformation. This has led to increased acceptance of cannabis as a legitimate therapeutic option for various conditions.

Additionally, shifting societal attitudes towards its use, and the economic potential of the cannabis industry —with its job creation, tax revenue, and opportunities for innovation —has also played a significant role in influencing countries to reconsider their stance and regulate cannabis rather than criminalize it.

Countries that have legalized cannabis

Uruguay became the first country to fully legalize cannabis for recreational use in 2013, followed by Canada in 2018. Both countries have established regulated systems for production, distribution, and sale of cannabis.

Cannabis laws in the United States vary by state, but as of today, several states have already legalized cannabis for recreational use, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

Some European countries, such as the Netherlands, have allowed the sale of cannabis in coffee shops for many years, while others, like Portugal and Spain, have decriminalized personal use.

Cannabis in Barcelona

Particularly in Barcelona, Catalonia, there has been a growing cannabis community known for its dispensaries and weed clubs called Cannabis Social Clubs(CSC). These are non-profit associations that facilitate the cultivation and consumption of cannabis by their members. To become a member you would have to be at least 18 years old and apply for an invitation on the website of the club.

Is Cannabis legal in Barcelona?

Cannabis in Spain and Catalonia is considered decriminalized, but not legal. This means that while is not a crime to carry or be in possession of a low amount of weed that could be considered for personal use, and it is not illegal to consume in your private residency, car or in a weed club, it would be illegal to do so in public, to sell it or carry large amounts of it.


Thankfully the world is changing its policies and every year more and more countries legalize or decriminalize the consumption of cannabis. In the end, the prohibition approach has proved to hurt more than it helped, so we can only hope governments have learned the lesson and from now on they start regulating instead of prohibiting.


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