Cannabis is rising in popularity in Europe. Though it’s still a niche interest compared to the proliferation of cannabis culture in the United States, studies have found that up to one in 10 adults use it recreationally in some EU countries. Additionally, governments are increasingly voting to decriminalize the drug, and Malta recently became the first EU country to legalize recreational cannabis outright.
Like with any substance, it’s important to know the laws and regulations before considering consuming. Because while cannabis is tolerated in places like the Netherlands, only low-THC “light” cannabis is allowed in countries like Italy.
In general, legal concerns decrease dramatically after the cannabis is in hand. Locals who consume typically have their trusted dealers, though there are also dealers on encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. As a basic rule, anyone asking for payment other than cash upon delivery (pre-paying, using a digital currency, or any type of prepaid card) is usually running a scam. As with anywhere else in the world, dealers selling in public spaces cater to tourists and there’s always a risk of paying more for smaller amounts or receiving cannabis laced with more dangerous substances.
That said, a shift in perspective on cannabis use can be seen spreading across the continent, as more and more governments vote in favor of decriminalization, while a handful of countries stretch for complete legalization. While most of the countries on this list do not currently have easy, legal access to recreational cannabis, there are some places that are far more lenient. This is what to know before considering cannabis use in 13 EU countries popular among tourists.
This information is drawn from local and international sources. It’s intended for educational purposes only and in no way constitutes legal advice
- Czech Republic
In 2001, the Belgian government ended the prosecution of people who grow a cannabis plant for personal use. In 2003, cannabis was set apart from other narcotics with a special set of guidelines around its use. These new decriminalization guidelines mean that unproblematic users who weren’t a public nuisance would not be prosecuted. This changed in 2015 when, in response to increased use by younger Belgians, laws were updated to criminalize possession of more than three grams. However, in the same year, medicinal cannabis products, such as Sativex, were made available in pharmacies for specific conditions.
Cannabis laws to know in Belgium: Personal cultivation and consumption of a single female marijuana plant, for medicinal reasons, has been legal since 2019. However, it is still generally illegal to consume or sell. Cannabis use near schools is a serious offense and can be met with fines of €8,000 to €800,000 (approximately $9,000 to $900,000) and three months to a year in prison.
Although recreational cannabis is illegal in the Czech Republic, is it legal for medicinal purposes. Currently, prescriptions from specialized doctors can allow for up to 180 grams of dry cannabis to be obtained each month (approximately 6 grams a day). The cultivation of up to five marijuana plants per individual is now permitted, although only if they are deemed to be for personal use. Generally, cannabis use is tolerated in public, as long as you are considerate and discreet. However, if you meet the wrong police officer you might end up with a fine.
Cannabis laws to know in Czech Republic: Though decriminalized, civil fines of up to 15,000 CZK ($688) may be imposed for possession of more than 10 grams of cannabis or 5 grams of cannabis resin, although the cost of the fine is frequently much lower. Possession of larger amounts is not decriminalized and can lead to criminal charges of intent to distribute. Minor offenders may receive a year in prison, however, cannabis traffickers can be sentenced to between two and 18 years.
Cannabis is illegal in Denmark for recreational use. Medical use has been allowed since 2011, though prescriptions are generally only prescribed to eliminate pain, nausea, and muscle stiffness in patients suffering from cancer or multiple sclerosis.
A tiny, liberal commune known as Freetown Christiania, which sprang up in the 1970s, is well known for its cannabis trade. Adjacent to Copenhagen, Christiania is a vibrant community with its own schools and theaters, as its own set of laws.” While Christiania has never officially been recognized by the Danish government, the people of Christinia regularly use and sell cannabis. The famous Pusher Street, or Green Light District, is a long road lined with stalls selling many varieties of cannabinoids. Whether you prefer grinding your own supply or need a pre-rolled product, you can find it here. This liberal mindset makes Christinia a busy tourist attraction. The catch in this wonderful scenario is that cannabis is still illegal, so at any moment a police patrol or raid may occur. Fortunately, tourists with small amounts usually have to face, at worst, a small fine of around 520 DKK (about $80).
Cannabis laws to know in Denmark: Although selling and consuming cannabis is illegal in Denmark, cannabis can be found in Freetown Christiania. While you may find what you need in the community’s Green Light District, be aware that police may unexpectedly appear.
France has some of the most strict cannabis laws in Europe. It’s illegal to possess, grow, sell, or distribute cannabis, and medical marijuana is also illegal (the first trials for medical use in France began in mid-2021). This is despite the fact that, by some accounts, France has one of the highest rates of cannabis users in the EU. French president Emmanuel Macron is emphatically against legalization of any kind. Penalties for possession and use include fines and imprisonment.
Cannabis laws to know in France: Cannabis is illegal in all forms in France.
In Germany, recreational cannabis use is currently illegal, albeit decriminalized. You may receive a prescription for medicinal cannabis if you are seriously ill and have no other therapeutic alternative. Despite this, Berlin is filled with many liberal young adults who regularly use cannabis, and you can often find the canal-side parks filled with groups of friends smoking and drinking beers in the warmer months. While its decriminalized nature means that police tend to look the other way if you’re not causing trouble, it is currently against the law.
All this might be changing soon as Germany’s new coalition government has announced its plans to legalize recreational cannabis across the country — though new laws haven’t yet been put into place.
Cannabis laws to know in Germany: Recreational cannabis use is currently illegal in Germany, however, persons caught with small amounts of cannabis may not be prosecuted if they are discreet and are not a public nuisance. Generally, across Germany, you may possess up to six grams, although that may vary depending on the state. In Berlin, you may frequently be let off with a warning or seizure of your drugs by the police if you are caught with up to 10 grams.
While the use of recreational cannabis is illegal in Italy, Law 79, introduced in 2014, classes cannabis as a decriminalized, low-danger drug. Additionally, ‘light marijuana’ may be purchased in some stores across Italy but it only has a THC content of up to 0.5 percent.
Medicinal cannabis was legalized in Italy in 2013. Those suffering from chronic pain and conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Tourette syndrome can be prescribed cannabis. However, users needed to buy imported products that could cost them up to €50 ($57) a gram. The Italian Ministry of Health only authorized the first Italian company, Bio Hemp Farming, to grow medicinal cannabis in 2021.
Cannabis laws to know in Italy: Possession of up to 1.5 grams is not considered a felony. Although you will not be prosecuted, the law is upheld in a range of ways, depending on the mood of the police officer who catches you. Some may give you a warning or seize your stash, some may give you a fine, and some police may confiscate your passport or driver’s license. Anyone caught selling cannabis may receive a fine of up to €75,000 (about $85,000).
In 2001, Luxembourg decriminalized cannabis and replaced prison sentences with a fine that can range between €250 and €2,500 (about $283 to $2,830). Luxembourg legalized medicinal in 2017, primarily for patients who have illnesses that don’t respond to traditional treatments. In 2021, the Luxembourg government officially legalized the cultivation of up to 4 cannabis plants per household for personal recreational use.
Cannabis laws to know in Luxembourg: You can now legally cultivate up to four plants in your residence, indoors or outdoors, for personal use if you are over 18. Currently, you may only consume cannabis in private, but if you are caught in the possession of under three grams in public you may only be fined as little as €25 ($28). However, any more than that and you may be charged with intent to distribute and face far more serious consequences.
The island nation legalized recreational possession and cultivation in December of 2021. Eventually, the country will adopt a system of non-profit associations to regulate cannabis sales.
Cannabis laws to know in Malta: Adults can possess up to seven grams and grow up to four plants. Smoking in public is still illegal, and consuming in front of a child can result in fines of up to €500 (about $564).
Famed throughout the Western world as a haven for cannabis consumers in Europe, the Netherlands does indeed tolerate cannabis use in many of its major cities. However, cannabis is illegal in the Netherlands and, despite its decriminalization, people caught repeatedly or with larger amounts could still face a fine or even prison.
Derived from their 1928 Opium Act, an agreement was made by the Dutch officials known as the Gedoogbeleid, or Tolerance Policy. This meant that people who were using “soft” recreational drugs were tolerated, so long as they weren’t causing harm to themselves or others. Selling cannabis is still illegal, although coffeeshops are permitted to sell cannabis provided they adhere to strict guidelines. Amsterdam is home to many famous coffeeshops, though there have been proposals to ban tourists from the establishments. Medicinal cannabis is also legal, although most prescriptions are for cannabinoid products rather than the actual plant matter.
Cannabis laws to know in the Netherlands: Consuming cannabis is generally tolerated as long as users are discreet and are not being a nuisance. Cannabis use within coffeeshops is permitted and preferred. Using cannabis around children, on public transport, or near schools is far less tolerated and could cause you to face more serious consequences.
Although cannabis use is not fully legal, in 2017, it was decriminalized by the Norwegian parliament. A shift in perspective on cannabis use meant that people found with personal use amounts were not a police priority. Moves to further relax cannabis laws have been met with opposition from Norway’s more conservative political parties.
In 2018, the Norwegian Medicines Agency allowed the use of Sativex as a treatment for conditions that can’t be managed using regular methods. Access to this medicinal form of cannabis is highly restricted and no actual cannabis plant prescriptions are available.
Cannabis laws to know in Norway: Recreational cannabis use is not legal in Norway, and persons found with less than 15 grams may face a fine of up to 1,500 NOK (approximately $2,500). Cultivation of cannabis is still strictly illegal. Those caught may be charged with intent to distribute and face a fine and a prison sentence of up to two years.
Portugal pioneered a new set of progressive laws in 2021: the decriminalization of all illicit substances for personal use. While recreational cannabis is still illegal, the Portuguese government understood that drug abuse was a symptom and not an epidemic. By encouraging persons found with illicit substances to attend rehab, and offering support rather than imprisonment, overall drug use dropped across the country.
This leniency does not extend to the cultivation or sale of cannabis, which are both still serious criminal offenses. Medicinal cannabis was legalized in 2018, but it’s accessible primarily to those with serious conditions where more conventional treatments fail to work.
Cannabis laws to know in Portugal: If you are caught with less than what’s considered a 10-day supply for the first time, you are generally not given any civil penalties. Repeat offenders may be evaluated by legal experts, medical professionals, and social workers to determine if addiction treatment is necessary. Those found to be possessing more than this supply, approximately 25 grams of cannabis or five grams of hash, may be charged with intent to distribute and face serious punishment.
Spain isn’t as open with cannabis consumption and sales as somewhere like the US or Canada, but it’s also among the most lenient countries in Europe — especially in southern Spain. Private use is permitted at residences and cannabis clubs, and residents can grow up to two plants or become a member at a consumption club in Barcelona or elsewhere. That said, navigating Spain’s cannabis clubs can have its own difficulties for tourists.
Cannabis laws to know in Spain: Trafficking or selling cannabis is illegal, and you can have your possessions seized, receive a fine, or be subject to jail time. The cannabis clubs are a loophole similar to Dutch coffeeshops.
While not in the EU, Switzerland is still a central European country with promising cannabis laws. Technically, cannabis is currently illegal in Switzerland, but a law starting in 2012 decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Anyone caught with a quantity large enough to be distributed can still face more serious sentencing. Medicinal cannabis use is legal for those suffering from multiple sclerosis or paraplegia, but only in the form of Sativex. “Light marijuana” containing less than 1 percent THC may be legally purchased and consumed.
In October 2021, plans were announced for a new law to legalize recreational cannabis use after a parliamentary commission studying recreational use. Whether the law will be passed in 2022 and, if so, how many grams and plants will be within the new legal limit remains to be seen..
Cannabis laws to know in Switzerland: If you are caught with less than 10 grams of cannabis, it’s deemed to be for personal use and you have to pay a flat fine of 100 CHF ($108). Repeat offenders, or those caught with up to four kilograms, have to pay increasingly higher rates that’s calculated according to monthly income. Over four kilograms is deemed as trafficking, which carries penalties of up to three years in prison.