As a Medical Marijuana Patient, Where Can I Use or Get Access to Medicine While Traveling Abroad?

January 29, 2015 - By Dr. Malik Burnett and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW

Dear Doctors,

“I am a medical marijuana patient and making arrangements to travel outside of the U.S. are there particular countries where I can use or get access to medicine?”

Sincerely,
Cannabis Traveler

Dear Traveler,

Thanks for your question.

While much of the discussion around medical marijuana has been centered in the United States, the expansion of access to medical marijuana is a worldwide phenomenon, with countries on every continent either taking into consideration or expanding access to the plant.

We will address your question in two parts: Part 1 examines medical marijuana in the Americas and Europe and Part 2 will examine the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Before you begin your journey, it is important to note that it is not advisable under any circumstances to transport marijuana internationally. That said, let's examine international marijuana laws and countries which consider marijuana to have a medical benefit:

North America and the Caribbean

In the U.S., 24 states, and the District of Columbia allow patients to access medical marijuana, but it’s our neighbor to the north which is the leader in allowing access to medical marijuana in North America. In 2001, Canada established regulations allowing medical cannabis. Originally, the program allowed patients whose doctors prescribed medical marijuana to be able to grow their cannabis at home, designate a caregiver to help access cannabis, or purchase it from the government.

However, given some problems with this system, Canada has issued regulations based on a commercial cultivation model similar to those in the US.  Unfortunately, current legislation affords no protections for patients outside the Canadian system.

The most recent medical marijuana reformer is Jamaica. Last week, the Jamaican cabinet decriminalized personal possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, and opened up a system for medical research and the distribution of cannabis. Jamaica has a long tradition of researching medical benefits of marijuana. In fact, the first research on cannabis in the treatment of glaucoma originated in Jamaica.

The Jamaica government is looking to include medical tourism in its marijuana program. If Jamaica is successful, it is likely that many other countries in the Caribbean will follow suit.

South America

With Uruguay being the leader in marijuana reform in the region, it is interesting to see the country use its system of pharmacies to distribute recreational marijuana. The Uruguayan government will look to establish a system for medical marijuana once it has completed its recreational system. Unfortunately, tourists are currently not allowed to consume marijuana in Uruguay.

Chile has expanded access allowing a non-profit organization to grow 850 cannabis plants which will be converted to cannabis oil for needy patients and the importation of cannabis products for medical use. Personal possession and use of cannabis is decriminalized, however there is not a clear legislative definition of what constitutes personal possession. Thus, a tourist should consume with caution in Chile.

Europe

Europe has the most established system for pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products with Sativex having approval for use in the vast majority of Western Europe, however it is expensive with an average monthly cost around €700. Access to marijuana also is limited in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, and Austria, which have all legalized marijuana for medical use. In Italy, the military has been charged with growing the supply for patients in the country. Spain introduced legislation to establish a medical marijuana program, however cannabis is readily available in social clubs around the country.

Portugal, the Netherlands, Croatia also have relaxed marijuana possession laws but have no formalized medical programs.

In short, Spain, the Netherlands, and Portugal are your best bets, but these locales may fall short of the medical standard with all of the requisite product information.  

Be sure to check back for Part II where we examine access to medical marijuana in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Sincerely,
The Doctors

Dr. Malik Burnett is a former surgeon and physician advocate. He also served as executive director of a medical marijuana nonprofit organization. Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

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