To go through the countries with legal weed in South America, we first have to define what South America is. The borders of a continent are often highly debated, however, the borders of South America are generally agreed internationally.
We’ll only be covering mainland countries South of Panama in this article. Although some countries like Trinidad and Tobago are only 12.5mi (20km) from the coast of Venezuela, technically the country is part of the North American continent, so we won’t be covering it here.
Whether cannabis is recreationally or medicinally legalized, decriminalized, or still fully illegal, we’ll be covering it all.
Read on to find out about the countries with legal weed in South America:
Disclaimer: We cannot guarantee the accuracy of this article at the time of reading. We take no responsibility for any inaccurate information.
Argentina’s Marijuana Laws
First up we have Argentina, famous for its steaks, the tango and its natural wonders. Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital and largest city is often referred to as the Paris of the South. Argentina has the second largest economy overall in South America, and the 3rd largest GDP per capita. It’s the second largest by landmass, and the 3rd largest by population.
Argentina unanimously legalized medical cannabis in 2017, however the framework behind this amendment is still being worked through. As well as this, the country decriminalized cannabis for personal use in 2009. Visiting Buenos Aires, you’ll notice the smell of weed almost anywhere you go, however this doesn’t mean you should be lighting up anywhere. If you want to enjoy a few bowls in Buenos Aires, it’d be smart to stick to private locations, or at least away from crowds.
Although the medical cannabis system is not yet finalized, it would make sense that Argentina looked at recreationally legalizing and dispensing at some point in the future. Often referred to as having one of the most fluctuating economies in the world, a new tax revenue stream could bring a huge economic boost.
Bolivia’s Marijuana Laws
Best known for its breathtaking salt flats, llamas, and the highest capital city in the world, Bolivia is a great place to visit. It is one of only two landlocked countries in South America, however the country borders Lake Titicaca, the largest lake on the continent. Bolivia has the 8th largest population in South America, and the 5th largest by landmass. Its GDP per capita is the lowest in the continent, meaning its citizens are some of the poorest in the continent. Bolivia’s population is very similar in size to the state of Georgia, with both having around 10.5 million people.
Both medical and recreational cannabis use is illegal in Bolivia, however, police have been known to loosely enforce the law for locals. Being caught as a tourist, however, might land you in more trouble.
Brazil’s Marijuana Laws
The most internationally known country in South America, and for good reason. Brazil is a huge country. Both its population and landmass are just shy of 50% of the total for South America. It’s also 4th on the list for GDP per capita, meaning its economy is huge thanks to its large population.
Although Brazil allows medicinal cannabis, the system in place for distribution and cultivation is still a work in progress. Recreational cannabis is illegal in the country, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon with the new appointment of President Jair Bolsonaro. The new leader is known for his tough stance on drugs, so no surprises that Brazil doesn’t get a tick next to its name for countries with legal weed.
Chile’s Marijuana Laws
Known as the earthquake capital of the world, Chile is a prosperous nation within South America, boasting the highest GDP per capita. Chile’s population is around 18 million, slightly below New York states. It also holds the titles of the highest cannabis consumption rates per capita and the highest support rates.
Although still illegal, growing and consuming cannabis has been decriminalized within the country. Medical cannabis is also legal, however, like Argentina, the system behind it all is still a work in progress. With public support at an all-time high, and peaceful protests being held regularly, Chile is expected to be one of the next to fully legalize recreational cannabis within South America, adding to the list of countries with legal weed.
Colombia’s Marijuana Laws
Infamously known as the home of cocaine and Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s history is filled with drugs. It’s the 2nd most populous country within South America, has the 3rd largest economy, and the 4th biggest landmass.
When reading a list of countries with legal weed, a lot would assume Colombia to be on that list, however that’s not currently the case. Colombia has decriminalized small amounts of cannabis and other drugs many years ago, and legalized medical cannabis in 2016. Home cultivation is also allowed provided that it’s for personal use. After legalizing medical use, other laws were put in place to stop anyone else from using cannabis. This new legislature was deemed very poorly formed, and as such has been scrapped. According to Forbes, this means that for the moment smoking cannabis in public is now allowed.
Although this is viewed as a temporary measure, there are politicians aiming for full legalization of cannabis. Senator Bolivar is leading the group, trying to end the war on drugs for good.
If all of that wasn’t enough, large North American cannabis companies are viewing Colombia as a perfect place to invest in cultivation. The tropical climate, cheap labor, and skilled workers are catching the attention of many companies. Canopy Growth, a North American company with a market cap over $13 billion USD is currently preparing a cultivation site.
Can the world’s largest producer of illegal cocaine pivot to being the world’s largest producer of legal cannabis? Time will tell, but it’s certainly looking possible.
Ecuador’s Marijuana Laws
Next up is Ecuador, known for its beautiful nature stretching from the Andes Mountain Range to the Galapagos Islands. Ecuador translates to equator in Spanish, so no surprises that the climate is hot and humid.
Although medical cannabis is still illegal within Ecuador, that could have changed by the end of 2019. Even though it’s currently illegal, some doctors write anonymous prescriptions so patients can have access to cannabis products, which are presumably being sold in a legal gray area. If this isn’t available, citizens can be in possession of up to 10 grams, the personal possession limit. Any more than this and possession could lead to criminal punishment.
Guyana’s Marijuana Laws
One of the lesser-known countries in South America, Guyana is the 2nd smallest, 2nd least populous, and has the 2nd smallest GDP per capita of all South American countries. Guyana’s population is similar to North Dakota’s or Alaska’s. It’s the only South American country where English is the official language, compared to the majority of South America speaking primarily Spanish and Portuguese.
As far as cannabis goes in the country, both recreational and medical remain illegal. This doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon for the country, however, for the ganja loving Guyanese, there may be some relief soon. A bill has been drafted for parliament with the aim of reducing punishment for people caught with up to 30 grams of cannabis. If caught, community service or a fine could replace potential jail.
Paraguay’s Marijuana Laws
The second and last landlocked country of South America, Paraguay, sits between Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. The country receives almost 100% of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, and has the world’s largest navy of any landlocked country.
Paraguay is one of the smaller, poorer and least populous countries in the continent, sitting at 8th, 10th and 9th respectively, out of the 12 countries. Its population is similar to that of Arizona or Massachusetts.
When it comes to cannabis, Paraguay is the largest producer within South America. Despite this, reported rates of trying cannabis are the 2nd lowest in South America, with only 4 out of 1000 people reporting they’ve tried before. This low rate could also be contributed to the fact that cannabis usage is not socially accepted, with Paraguayans often referring to it as demon weed.
Most of the cannabis grown in Paraguay is smuggled into Brazil, and to a lesser extent Argentina. Paraguay recently legalized some medical cannabis products within the country, so now a small percentage of the cannabis produced within the country is legally cultivated. When it comes to using cannabis recreationally, Paraguay takes a different approach to most countries. As reported in Talking Drugs, illegal drugs can be permitted, provided the person registers as a drug taker. Should someone not be registered, being in possession of up to 10 grams is decriminalized.
Peru’s Marijuana Laws
Famous around the world as the home of Machu Picchu, Peru is the 3rd largest country in South America. It’s also home to the highest sand dune in the world, the highest lake, and the deepest canyon.
Medical cannabis was legalized in Peru in 2018, although getting access is still limited. This change of law meant that businesses can now apply to become a producer and cultivator, education institutions can now apply to study the plant, and pharmacies can now apply to distribute to patients.
For recreational users, having up to eight grams is decriminalized, provided that it is deemed only for personal use. Although not a criminal offense, Peruvian police have been known to ignore these laws and still follow through with punishment. It is up to their discretion as to whether they think possession is personal, so carrying less than eight grams is still risky. Although public sentiment on the subject is slowly changing, the country still remains a risky place to get high.
Suriname’s Marijuana Laws
Another country you may have never heard of, Suriname is bordered by Guyana, Brazil and French Guiana, an overseas territory of France. The country is the least populous, with a population just less than Wyoming, the least populous state in the United States. It’s also the smallest country in South America, with a size just smaller than Uruguay. The country has the 6th highest GDP per capita in the continent, with a large portion of this coming from bauxite, its largest export.
Suriname shares a lot of culture, heritage, and football players with The Netherlands. One thing they do not share is their love for weed. Both medical and recreational remain illegal in the country.
Uruguay’s Marijuana Laws
Second last on the list, it’s finally Uruguay’s time to shine. It’s the 3rd smallest by population, 2nd smallest by area, but 2nd richest when comparing GDP per capita. You might have heard about this small country on the episode of The Simpson’s, when homer thinks it’s pronounced “you are gay”. Or, as you are on The THC Times and enjoy all things cannabis, you’ll probably know Uruguay as the first country in the world to fully legalize weed.
The small country of Uruguay, with a population similar to Connecticut, legalized the use and possession of cannabis in 2013. It wasn’t until July of 2017 that cannabis sales officially started, with all legal sales being through pharmacies. The long time period from law reform to sales has mainly been attributed to the fact that the government wanted to get the system right, as the whole world was watching.
Supply is still controlled however, as customers need to register with the countries overseeing department, and are allowed a maximum of 10 grams per week. Customers are also required to have their fingers scanned before purchasing, to ensure they are registered, and their weekly limit has not been reached. There are only four different strains available too, all being quite mild in strength when compared to offerings found in the US.
Currently only two companies have been granted licenses to grow, however that number is expected to increase soon. These restrictions have meant that Uruguay has not received anywhere near the same tax revenue as Colorado or California, but after more than two years of operation, Uruguay is ready to expand.
This “slow and steady” approach has certainly helped the global movement, giving outsiders a chance to understand all aspects of the new industry.
Venezuela’s Marijuana Laws
Last on the list is Venezuela, a country currently undergoing huge political instability, poverty and crime. Although difficult to estimate due to the large number of citizens fleeing the country, Venezuela has a population slightly larger than Texas. It’s also the 6th biggest country in South America, bigger than Ecuador, Guyana, Uruguay and Suriname combined.
The country is currently undergoing some of the largest inflation rates the world has ever seen. It’s so bad that some experts think it might hit 10 million percent this year. That’s not a typo. 10 million percent, enough to make a toilet paper roll cost 2.6 million bolivars. This crisis is even more surprising when taking into account that Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves on Earth. More than Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, and the United States.
The turbulent topics of Venezuela’s economy deserve a separate article in itself, so let’s get down to the cannabis part. Both medical and recreational cannabis possession and use are illegal, and unlike other South American countries, there doesn’t seem to be any chance of that changing soon (completely understandable). If you’re caught with below 20 grams, and it’s deemed for personal use only, you will likely not be criminally punished, but be diverted to a detoxification and rehabilitation facility instead.
On this full list of countries with legal weed in South America, only Uruguay truly fits the criteria. With a lot of the countries’ general laid back vibes and progressive governments, there are however a lot of places where smoking a spliff in South America won’t draw too much unwanted attention.
Zak Voss, the founder of The THC Times, brings over 15 years of experience in the cannabis industry, blending his engineering background with extensive legal and technical expertise. Renowned for his consultancy in cannabis legalities and indoor growing environments, Zak is a vital guide for navigating the complex cannabis landscape.