When you think of places where marijuana is popular, Amsterdam is likely one of the first places that springs to mind. The United States, specifically states like Colorado and California, and other places where cannabis has become a hot topic are others that jump to mind. But just because a country or city has liberal cannabis laws, it doesn’t mean everyone is toking up. So, which country smokes the most marijuana?
The top nation isn’t The Netherlands, renowned for its coffee shops. Few generalizations are as synonymous as the stereotype that all Dutch people enjoy smoking weed all day. Although it’s a prejudice that Amsterdam hasn’t quite managed to shake, several other countries have an even bigger cannabis smoking culture.
Believe it or not, despite how long weed has been widely available in The Netherlands, only an estimated 8% of Dutch people smoke marijuana – contradicting the Dutch stereotype. The winning nation also isn’t Portugal, Uruguay, or the US, all of which have made strides to decriminalize our favorite psychoactive green herb during modern times.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Iceland is the country that smokes the most marijuana. The data collected by the organization reports that 18.3% of Iceland’s population (aged 15-64) use cannabis. The United States ranked second place with 16.2%, and the third was Nigeria, with 14.3%. Shocking to many, The Netherlands came in at 20th on the list.
Iceland: Number One Pot Smoking Nation
Iceland smokes more pot per capita than any other country. Interestingly, marijuana isn’t legal in the country for recreational use.
The cultivation, sale, possession, and consumption of marijuana are illegal in Iceland. In fact, the cultivation, sale, or possession of the drug are subject to heavy penalties, and anyone caught doing any of these things in the country faces the possibility of a jail sentence. Marijuana in Iceland can only be used in limited circumstances for chronically ill patients.
Clearly, the federal illegality of marijuana has not stopped a large part of the population from lighting it up. Many reports suggest that while marijuana is illegal, it’s tolerated. Smoking in public or possessing a small amount results in a fine. Although repeat offenders may be given jail time, smoking marijuana is widely socially acceptable.
Research suggests that Icelanders consume between 1,5-2 metric tons of marijuana every year, which is about 6-7 grams per person. Almost 30% of the country admits to having tried cannabis at one time or another. And this number is likely to be even higher since even long-time smokers deny smoking weed in polls and refuse to sign the demand for legislation form, out of fear that the list will fall into police hands and be used to persecute smokers.
So why do Icelandic people seem to love weed more than everyone else? The answer is not clear, but perhaps it’s because they didn’t have legal beer until 1989. Alcohol was completely prohibited in the country in 1915. Since then, other spirits like wine and hard liquor became legal, but beer only got the OK about 30 years ago.
So for college kids looking to have some fun back in the day, maybe weed was an attractive alternative to sketchy booze.
Enforcement of Marijuana Laws in Iceland
You’re probably still wondering how it’s possible that the number one pot-smoking nation is one in which the drug is not even illegal. We have to admit, we were also a little surprised, but when you dig into it, things make more sense.
When it comes to enforcing marijuana laws in Iceland, it seems that the police themselves are subject to constraints. They cannot search people against their will unless they reasonably deem them to be acting suspiciously.
The fine for being caught by police with one gram of weed is 500 USD. To get jail time, you must have at least 0.5 – 1 kg of weed, for which you receive three months in prison.
The fact that people continue to be arrested for marijuana possession in Iceland demonstrates that there is a culture of consuming and producing weed within the country.
Other Weed Smoking Nations on the List
The United States was second on the UNODC list of countries that smoke the most marijuana. Currently, 33 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana in some form or another. As the stigma around the plant continues to dissipate, the cannabis culture is growing.
Since 1970, marijuana has been listed as illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug. At that time, weed was also illegal under the laws of every state. However, over the last two decades, state marijuana laws have undergone a significant transformation. In 1996, California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Gradually, other states started to follow suit, and over the last few years, an increasing number of states have passed laws to allow the legal use of marijuana. This has led to an increased interest in the cannabis culture, and perhaps more people using or at least admitting to the use of cannabis.
Nigeria ranked third on the list of countries that smoke the most marijuana. The country has an estimated 20.8 million marijuana consumers lighting up annually. But despite the high consumption rates, marijuana sales are also illegal in Nigeria. Canada was fourth on the list, with 12.7% of the population reportedly consuming marijuana.
What About Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is notorious for its legal weed, pot bakeries, and smoking bars, but The Netherlands ranked quite far down the list at 20th. This proves that legalization cannot be directly linked to an increase in consumption.
Interestingly, smoking marijuana in Amsterdam is mostly for tourists. Walk into any coffeeshop – not a coffee shop (cafe) but one where you will instantly get the smell of weed – and you will notice that almost every customer is a tourist. The fact is, most locals don’t partake in the activity.
Whether it’s because locals have been around it all their lives or because most coffee shops are in “tourist traps” where locals never go, those who live in Amsterdam just don’t do it.