Amsterdam Canal. Photo Credit: Zena Velasquez
When traveling abroad, habitual cannabis consumers—particularly those from a place where they can legally purchase cannabis from a state-regulated dispensary—want to know if they can continue to (legally) use cannabis in their destination.
There are, of course, the well-known destinations that attract cannabis tourism, including the world-famous Amsterdam. And while the Netherlands’ ‘tolerance’ for cannabis is unique, there are also other, lesser-known European countries with similarly lenient policies. Here’s some of the European countries with the least restrictive cannabis regulations and a brief explanation of their respective laws.
Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Amsterdam, for many, is considered the cannabis capital of the world. They are known for their coffeeshops (not to be confused with spaced out ‘coffee shops,’ which sell coffee) where one can both purchase and smoke cannabis on premises. This is what makes Amsterdam distinct from other destinations: there are some places in the world that permit the sale of cannabis but very few allow the smoking of cannabis on-site. None in Europe, aside from the Netherlands, allow for the sale of cannabis.
According to the Netherlands government’s official website, while “it is against the law to possess, sell or produce drugs” there is a recognized “toleration policy” towards soft drugs. The toleration policy is a non-codified law that enables coffeeshops to sell cannabis in small amounts. In order to be issued a permit to sell cannabis, coffeeshops must adhere to certain conditions. Such as not serving alcohol, not selling cannabis to minors, and not advertising the sale of drugs.
This permissiveness towards cannabis isn’t limited to the city of Amsterdam. Since this is a country-wide policy position, coffeeshops are in most cities across the Netherlands. Recently, during a trip to the Netherlands, this writer stayed in Amsterdam and the neighboring city Haarlem (pronounced Harlem): both of which had coffeeshops.
If you want to visit the Netherlands and would rather avoid the touristic elements of Amsterdam, other cities, such as Rotterdam, Den Haag, or even Haarlem, may be ideal.
The Czech Republic is an Eastern European country comparable in size to the state of Mississippi. Like the Netherlands, the Czech Republic is known internationally for their lax approach towards drugs. While their laws are relatively lenient, especially for the 1990s when they first appeared, there are some major misconceptions.
In ‘small amounts,’ defined by the supreme court of the Czech Republic as being “manifold excess of a normal dose,” Possession of all drugs is legal, including cannabis, MDMA, cocaine, and heroin. The worst punitive measure that can be imposed for possession of any drug in ‘small amounts’ is a 550 Euro statutory fine.
For cannabis, possession of anything under 15 grams is effectively decriminalized. Yet, the purchase and sale of non-medical cannabis (cannabis for recreational users) is not permitted. Meaning, despite being decriminalized, there are no dispensaries or coffee shops where cannabis is legally sold.
There are some shops that refer to themselves as ‘cannabis shops,’ but legally, they can only sell CBD products with less than 1 percent THC. Some shops sell Delta-8 under the guise of cannabis effectively deceiving customers (a fellow writer for this magazine can attest to this).
While the Czech Republic does not have California-Colorado-New-York-style recreational cannabis, or a Netherlandian ‘toleration policy,’ you don’t have to worry about being arrested for possession and according to some sources, it is relatively easy to obtain cannabis on the ‘illicit market’—especially in major cities like Prague.
Malta is a small country (the smallest in the EU) located in South Europe between Sicily and North Africa. In 2021, they were the first country in the EU to fully legalize cannabis possession. Yet, recent events have shown that it isn’t that simple.
Possession of cannabis under seven grams is completely legal; possession between seven and twenty-eight grams could receive a fine up to 100 euros. Adults are also legally permitted to cultivate up to four plants in their homes.
While this is a significant milestone for cannabis policy in the EU, it does have some significant drawbacks. Smoking cannabis in public remains illegal and one is liable to receive up to a 235 Euro fine. Or 500 Euros if minors are within too-close proximity. Also, almost a year after cannabis was legalized in Malta, there is still no legal route to establishing dispensaries.
When the law was ratified, there were governmental plans to set-up legally designated ‘cannabis clubs’ that cannabis users and growers could join. However, Euronews reports that, as of yet, none have been established.
Earlier this year there was another unfortunate development. A Maltese doctor, who was prescribing and selling cannabis, was arrested by authorities with drug trafficking charges. Since many considered the doctor’s actions entirely legal under the new laws, this further obscured the legality of cannabis in Malta.
Despite the contentious issues with these laws, individuals do not have to worry about possession charges. Malta is a unique country where one can possess small amounts of cannabis without fear of criminal prosecution or fining.
Although most European countries are still behind some other western countries, such as Canada and specific states in the U.S, there are still places where residents (and, of course, travelers) can go and safely possess, or, in the case of the Netherlands, purchase cannabis.