Is Marijuana Legal in South America? Breakdown by Country
Published on 4/7/21
As 2020 fades into the rearview mirror and the light of a world post-COVID emerges at the end of the tunnel, Americans itching to travel again are trying to decide where they will go first. South America is always an enticing option, with rainforests, mountains, beaches and delicious food available for an affordable vacation. What about cannabis, though? If we head down south will we be able to legally buy weed? Alas, no. Before you put down that passport, however, it is important to understand that marijuana can still play a part in the enjoyment of your trip.
In a region known to be relatively conservative thanks primarily to the dominance of the Catholic Church, hints of social movements advocating marijuana policy reform are also slowly developing at various rates in South American countries. Buoyed by increasing legalization to the north, nations throughout the continent are slowly taking steps toward decriminalization and there are now plenty of places where weed can be responsibly enjoyed without fear of a fine or an arrest.
Cannabis Laws in South America
There are currently no countries where cannabis is legal in South America for non-residents, but Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay have laws or statutes that allow some type of access to weed for medical purposes. Ecuador joined the ranks in 2020, but any cannabis legally cultivated may not exceed THC levels of 1%. The unique nation at the moment remains Uruguay; citizens and permanent residents can legally purchase weed for recreational purposes.
The Best Countries for Marijuana in South America
The following are not countries where marijuana is legal for tourists or visitors, but they are the countries that have the most relaxed laws on the continent. While you cannot walk into a dispensary or a pharmacy and make a purchase, marijuana is readily available and can easily be enjoyed if handled responsibly and discreetly.
Argentina decriminalized marijuana for personal use in 2009, officially legalized medical cannabis in 2017 and finally got regulations on the books just a few months ago that provides a framework for regulating medical weed. Patients are now allowed to grow at home and make purchases of cannabis products (oils, creams, etc.) from select pharmacies once they are registered with REPROCANN, Argentina's national cannabis program. Patients not registered with the program can still make pharmacy purchases with a prescription. Argentine politics and its economy have historically been volatile, but this latest move is a clear indication that the country might finally be ready for a regulated recreational system.
In 2015, Chile's government voted to legalize marijuana for medical use and decriminalize recreational use. In 2017, pharmacies in the country began to sell cannabis-based products for patients. Chile has the highest per-capita use of weed in South America and it is legal to use in homes. You won't have any problem enjoying cannabis in Santiago or any other city in this beautiful country.
As early as 1986, Colombians were able to possess up to 20 grams of marijuana. The country eventually officially legalized medical cannabis in 2016 and voted to allow home cultivation for personal use. There was great fanfare in November of 2020 when the Lower House of the Colombian legislature voted on whether to legalize weed for recreational use, but sadly, the measure was struck down. At the moment, the country's tumultuous history with drug cartels and cocaine trafficking remains a barrier to additional reform at the legislative level. Cannabis can be easily found in most urban areas; use discretion.
When Law 30681 passed in early 2019, the cultivation, processing, importation, exportation and commercialization of registered medical marijuana products were legalized. Businesses must apply for licenses from Peru's Directorate General of Medicines, Supplies and Drugs (DIGEMID) to qualify for legal recognition. At the recreational level, weed remains illegal, but it is decriminalized and people in Peru can possess up to eight grams of marijuana for personal use.
This tiny nation of 3.5 million people became the first country on the continent to pass legislation that created a legal framework for medical AND recreational cannabis in 2013. It remains the only country in South America with a legal recreational option. Law 19.172 was established to promote public health "through a policy aimed at minimizing risks and reducing the harm of cannabis use." It seeks to "protect the country's inhabitants from the risks entailed by ties to illegal trade and drug trafficking.
Only Uruguayan citizens or permanent residents 18 and older can access recreational marijuana from three different options: home growing of up to six female plants, membership clubs that can register up to 45 members and grow up to 99 female plants or by purchasing from government pharmacies. A maximum possession of 40 grams per person per month is allowed. Medical cannabis users in the country must apply to the Institution of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) to receive a medical marijuana card.
South American Countries to Avoid if You Want to Smoke Marijuana
Pro-marijuana campaigns are underway in most of South America, but there are still a few countries that are best avoided if you want to smoke weed knowing that law enforcement won't be on the lookout for an easy target. The draconian days of the 80s are thankfully over, but underpaid and/or corrupt cops are always looking for ways to add to their wages.
Tourists are often targeted for marijuana purchase and use. The most likely punishment will be a demand for a bribe, but some period of jail time could also be in the cards.
Weed is ubiquitous in this fun-loving nation, but police in Brazil are notorious for preying on tourists who want to add some marijuana to their vacation. Private homes are your best bet for lighted up safely.
The unstable political climate only adds to the danger of getting caught as a visitor with cannabis. Possession of small quantities of marijuana may lead to imprisonment and conviction could include up to two years in prison before sentencing.
While there are no countries where pot is legal for visitors or tourists, it would be safe to assume that there will be legal weed countries for visitors traveling to South America to enjoy shortly. It is only a matter of time.
Have you ever smoked as a tourist? Let us know your story in the comments below!