A vast and diverse continent, South America has drastically different cannabis-related laws depending on country. In recent years, many South American countries have moved towards a more cannabis-friendly culture. Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay are among the most marijuana-friendly countries in the continent -- but their laws still need to be closely followed by both visitors and residents.
Citizens of Argentina have been demanding marijuana legalization for some time. Back in 2015, over 100,000 citizens marched through the streets in order to protest the current illegality of marijuana and to demand the personal right to grow it. With this type of support, it's doubtful that marijuana will remain illegal in Argentina for long.
Small amounts of cannabis are already decriminalized -- which means being caught in possession of small amounts of cannabis will result in a fine or ticket, rather than jail time. However, selling, transporting, and growing cannabis are still illegal. Medical marijuana is currently legal in Argentina, though consumption in public spaces is not.
Despite the illegality of the herb, marijuana culture in Argentina is thriving. Mostly smuggled in through Paraguay, marijuana can be difficult to get, but is still fairly common. Because of the laws decriminalizing personal use, it's not uncommon to see smokers on the beach or in other public spaces.
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Chile has recently decriminalized personal marijuana use and the sale and transportation of marijuana for medical purposes is legal. Those who want to grow their own marijuana and use it recreationally may only face fines and tickets, if that. In 2016, there has been a push for a regulation bill, which would completely legalize using, growing, selling, and transporting small amounts of marijuana.
Private, at-home consumption of marijuana in Chile is entirely legal, which has contributed to a significant pot culture throughout the country. In fact, it's often said that cannabis has the longest history in Chile, since it was the first location in which hemp was cultivated. Medical marijuana growers have only recently begun to establish roots in Chile, with much of the cannabis in Chile coming from Peru and Paraugay.
In 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession of up to five grams of cannabis -- though the act is still illegal. Similarly, it is now decriminalized to grow one's own marijuana, as long as it is for personal use. It is, however, illegal to either sell or transport marijuana. Thus, Mexican residents and tourists are able to grow their own marijuana and smoke it (in reasonable quantities), but are not allowed to sell it or attempt to transport it. Interestingly, the pot production in Mexico has declined as the production in United States has expanded.
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Though it’s not legal to smoke marijuana in public in Mexico, it is not an entirely uncommon sight. Mexico has eased up on its penalties regarding marijuana use, but smoke houses and cafes are still not available in the country.
Though possession of marijuana is illegal in Peru, it has been decriminalized for up to eight grams. Transportation, selling, and growing of marijuana are all illegal. In fact, Peru has fairly strict laws regarding growing and selling marijuana; those who are found guilty can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. With all this in mind, one might wonder why Peru is one of the major exporters of cannabis.
Peru is an area of conflict when it comes to marijuana culture. It is not uncommon to see Peruvian citizens smoking marijuana in the street or in other public spaces -- but if they are caught by the police, they are very likely to face fairly significant consequences. The large volumes of marijuana grown in Peru are more to do with the hospitable environment and the criminal element than the country's willingness to open its arms to the plant. Nevertheless, smoking marijuana is not uncommon in Peru, and it is considered to be fairly available to both tourists and residents alike.
Uruguay is by far the most marijuana-friendly country in South America -- and may very well be one of the most marijuana-friendly countries in the world. Uruguay has entirely legalized the use of both medical and recreational marijuana, in addition to the growing, transportation, and selling the plant. Growing up to six plants is legal within a home for recreational uses, and a medical marijuana dispensary system has been implemented by the government itself. In 2015, there were over 2,700 personal growers registered throughout the country.
There is one catch to Uruguay's pot-friendly atmosphere: visitors to the country are not allowed to purchase marijuana on their own. Only citizens and registered residents are able to purchase marijuana, and they are limited to 40 grams a month from a pharmacy.
Although South America has a very strong marijuana culture, its laws haven't quite caught up. Many countries throughout South America allow personal usage of marijuana and some even allow personal growing -- but, other than Uruguay, they do not currently allow wide scale legal production of recreational marijuana. This may change, however, as there are many activist groups working within these countries to move the laws in question forward.
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