Cannabis legalization updates from around the globe

international cannabis legalization

Japan made headlines this week as the lower house passed a historic medical cannabis bill, but that’s not the only international cannabis update lately. The plant has been a topic of conversation worldwide as governments suss through the benefits of legalization and activists fight for the right to medical access.

Japan’s medical cannabis bill

This Asian country has been staunchly opposed to cannabis consumption for decades, with harsh penalties for even minor possession. Things got slightly more chill Tuesday as the House of Representatives (lower house) passed a medical cannabis bill. But tourists shouldn’t start celebrating as lawmakers made it clear that recreational consumption was still highly illegal.

If the bill were to pass in the House of Councillors (upper house), it would open up access to Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical iteration of CBD. The drug has been approved as a treatment for severe epilepsy in the U.S. and Europe with a clinical trial running in Japan now.

Passage of the bill would also tighten up current cannabis laws, closing a consumption loophole in the country’s 1948 Cannabis Control Law that institutes a zero-tolerance policy. The law prohibits the sale, import, export, transport, and possession of weed–but not the consumption of it. As American regulators have learned amid the THCA and hemp-derived delta-9 markets, semantics are crucial when it comes to cannabis law.

European legalization pilot programs

A few European countries are already testing the waters of medical cannabis. SCRIPT, a government cannabis legalization harm reduction program, is underway in multiple cities. Starting January 2023, almost 400 participants were granted the ability to buy cannabis legally at the pharmacy in Basel. The program will run for two and a half years, tracking the health impact of regular cannabis consumption. The product averages around 12 percent THC.

Basel was the first city to launch its SCRIPT program, with others coming online in its wake. Currently, just over 1,000 people are part of the program country-wide, with similar programs in Zurich, Geneva, and Lausanne. The goal of the program is harm reduction; through questionnaires filled out by participants the government can identify and mitigate risky consumption methods come legalization.

The Netherlands was set to launch a legalization pilot program in the fourth quarter according to a February 2023 announcement. As the end of the fourth quarter approaches, it’s possible the launch date is quickly approaching.

When the program does start up it will involve the southern municipalities of Tilburg and Breda. The goal of Wietexperiment, which translates to “weed experiment,” is to close the legal gray area between coffeeshops and their cannabis supply.

According to the original announcement, regulators are monitoring the quality and quantity of cannabis from three growers. They will launch the program once standards are met.

Ireland’s first medical cannabis clinic opens

Cannabis remains mostly illegal in Ireland, but medical use is considered on a case-by-case basis. The first license of medical cannabis oil was issued by the court in 2016 to a 2-year-old Dravet syndrome patient who had started treatment in Colorado.

By 2017, development of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme had begun. A five-year pilot program began in June 2019, starting the first phase of seeking providers.

The first medical cannabis clinic, MEDICANN, opened in the country earlier this month, serving patients through virtual telehealth appointments. Clinicians will decide whether Irish patients qualify to receive the approved products, including CBD drops, a 1:1 THC to CBD oral solution, CBD capsules, and a few types of dried herb.

A package leaflet from the program explains that the target patients include multiple sclerosis patients, cancer patients with severe nausea, and treatment-resistant epilepsy. Now, these patients can consult with clinicians in another step towards cannabis access.

South Africa one step closer to legalization

Down in South Africa, a bill to legalize personal cannabis consumption was taken off the shelf and approved by the National Assembly this week. The legislation moves to the next House of Parliament, the National Council of Provinces. If the Council concurs without amendments, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill will be sent to the president’s desk.

The bill was first introduced in 2018 when a private cannabis consumption case hit the Constitutional Court, ultimately leading to its decriminalization. The judge also declared that Parliament must change the Drug Trafficking and Medicines Control Acts to reflect the ruling. Parliament was given until September 2024 to make the changes and approve a bill.

Though this step does not legalize medical access or the commercialization of the plant, Parliament spokespeople hope that this step will lead to industry.

Cannabis is making international waves, with federal legalization in some countries and medical programs in others. As more research shows the plant’s potential as well as the positive impact of legalization, the wave will likely continue.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.