Toking While Traveling

What to Know Before You Light Up on Foreign Soil

Your plane ticket is purchased, Airbnb booked, and before you know it you’re headed to the airport. You’ll utilize your flight time to research the best hotspots, local bars and entertainment. There’s a waterfall less than a mile away from your rental—looks like an amazing place to spend your first day. You can cool off, relax, maybe even smoke some locally-grown cannabis to decompress. But wait…where will you buy quality cannabis products? Can you purchase weed as a tourist? Are there even legal dispensaries in the area?

Some travelers seek out specific locations, such as Amsterdamor the Caribbean, for their laid-back culture and presumably lax cannabis laws, but some areas aren’t as open to visitor consumption as you might think. Let’s explore the ins and outs of cannabis regulation in three countries, starting with one whose “red light district” is often depicted as a land without laws.

Cannabis Culture Abroad: What to Know Before You Light Up on Foreign Soil

The Netherlands

While cannabis remains legal here, there’s a formalized tolerance policy, which means only small quantities and sales are allowed in coffee shops that meet certain licensing requirements (i.e. only selling to those over 18, not serving alcohol or other drugs), and cannabis cannot be mixed with tobacco. Even more strange is the fact that the production of cannabis is still prohibited and enforced, meaning these coffee shops must source product via the criminal market, which is referred to as the “backdoor problem.”

So what should travelers know when heading to Amsterdam for a holiday?I spoke with Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at Transform and author of “Cannabis policy in the Netherlands: moving forwards not backwards,” to find out:

DOPE Magazine: What should tourists know before consuming cannabis in the country?

Steve Rolles: If you do use cannabis, be respectful. Do it in private buildings or in coffee shops. Smoking in public—walking down the streets or in public squares, for example—should really be avoided. You might not get arrested and fined (although you can be), but in a small, built-up city like Amsterdam that’s already bursting with tourists, it’s just disrespectful and antisocial for the locals—so be nice. Remember, there are plenty of coffee shops you can use cannabis in, anyway. Other than that, it’s just common sense—take it easy. A lot of the weed is very strong, as are edibles, and a lot of tourists get over-excited and overdo it. And don’t try and take cannabis home with you across any borders—that is definitely illegal, and you’re just asking for trouble.

DOPE Magazine: Where do you see the Netherlands’ cannabis policy heading in the future?

Steve Rolles: With reforms in Uruguay, the U.S. and Canada, there’s a growing sense that the “backdoor” problem needs to be resolved now, with some formal legal production to supply the coffee shops. There are various legislative efforts to make this happen, and it’s looking likely in the next few years. At a municipal level, some mayors are taking matters into their own hands and starting formally tolerated grow-ops to put the criminal market out of business. This will probably be a transitional stage to full legalization, but that hasn’t quite happened yet. The Netherlands also faces the interlinked obstacles of EU and UN law, both of which forbid legalization. But given the Netherlands’ history and developments around the world, these can probably be finessed in the short-term until legislation can be modernized in the long-term.A number of other EU countriesare also moving rapidly towards legalization, so it looks likely that change in the multilateral bodies will have to happen soon.

Cannabis Culture Abroad: What to Know Before You Light Up on Foreign Soil

Jamaica

From Rastafarian vibes to reggae music, there’s perhaps no other culture that people associate with cannabis more than Jamaica. It would probably surprise some to know, then, that Jamaica didn’t decriminalize cannabis until February 6, 2015. What’s more surprising is the first legal cannabis dispensary, Kaya Herb House, didn’t open until March of this year.

Here’s what Balram Vaswani, owner of Kaya, had to say about his journey:

DOPE Magazine: What was the process of opening the first medical cannabis dispensary in Jamaica like?

 Balram Vaswani: It was a very tedious process, in terms of complying with rules that were put in place by theory, as it was never done before—so rules changed along the way, which made it very difficult. There were many times that it became so difficult I wanted to throw in the towel, but we took each obstacle one by one and worked to fix each of them. These ranged from security measures, web-enabled computer systems connected to a third-party security company, and 24 armed guards at all facilities, but as you could imagine, not every farm [can] have access to high-speed internet access. In our initial build-out of the herb house, our designs had our Cafe merged with the herb, but then the rules changed, stating that we had to separate medicinal areas from non-medicinal areas, so we had to re-design the space. The really hard part is the maintenance of compliance with the CLA [Cannabis Licensing Authority). This includes weekly log reports, harvest reports, incident reports…

DOPE Magazine: What do you see for the future of cannabis in Jamaica?

Balram Vaswani: I think the future is bright, although we are facing some very serious problems with the Ministry of Health, banking, etcetera. Jamaica has a strong brand we can leverage if we can benchmark GMP [Good Manufacturing Practices] standards and look towards export in the Caribbean and internationally. We also can fast track programs ahead of the U.S. in terms of clinical trials. These opportunities can put Jamaica right back on the map as a leader in the cannabis space, alongside Israel and Canada, which have taken the lead.

If caught with cannabis in Jamaica without proof of legal purchase, you may be hassled by the police. Be sure to keep it under the two-ounce threshold and only smoke where permitted.

Cannabis Culture Abroad: What to Know Before You Light Up on Foreign Soil

Uruguay

Uruguayallows their citizens freedoms Americans can only find in certain states; Uruguayan citizens can medicinally and recreationally utilize and cultivate cannabis. Eduardo Blasina, director of the Cannabis Museum of Montevideo, filled me in on how their cannabis laws have changed over time.

DOPE Magazine: Can you give me a brief rundown of Uruguay’s cannabis policy over the years, and why you felt Museo del Cannabis de Montevideo was important to the country?

 Eduardo Blasina: When I was young we were under a dictatorship, so you could be jailed at any time. Smoking cannabis was not something good to do on the street, but with the return of democracy in 1985, some more open-minded people began explaining that we wanted free cannabis to be part of democracy. With time, it was easier to get cannabis and find friends that smoked. At some point during the ‘90s, we began doing some more activities for the legalization of cannabis. It was a slow process, and we didn’t dream of reaching the status of being a free country or being the first [in] the world to do so. The big change came in 2013 with the law that gave us three ways of getting cannabis: planting ourselves, taking part in a [cannabis] club, or buying it in pharmacies.

DOPE Magazine: What should tourists know before consuming cannabis in the country?

 Eduardo Blasina: When a tourist comes to Uruguay, what he needs to know is that he won’t be able to buy cannabis—he will need to have some friend that shares, or he will find cannabis [on his own], anyway, because it is really easy to find cannabis in Uruguay . . . lots of people smoke and cultivate, and we like to share it. You can smoke on the street, you can smoke on the beach—you can smoke everywhere, if it is an open space. It’s like tobacco, there is no difference; no police can bother you or say anything if you’re smoking on the street. But you will not be able to buy legally, unfortunately.

DOPE Magazine: What do you envision for the future of Uruguay’s cannabis culture?

 As the director of the Montevideo Cannabis Museum, I think that the future of Uruguay and cannabis culture should be a future of science and technology. We already have the freedom not only to smoke and to cultivate, but to research, and I think that the science of cannabis is a very important thing. I hope Uruguay will be producing and exporting medical cannabis all over the world—mainly to Brazil and Argentina. [Those] are very big markets, and I don’t see them legalizing production anytime soon.

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