With recreational marijuana use illegal in all US states, Americans are either forced to go through underground sources at home or travel across borders to obtain and use the drug. Some places have significantly decriminalized marijuana or have turned a blind eye to personal use, encouraging travelers from around the globe to visit.
To get a sense of the world's top marijuana destinations, CNBC.com asked Danny Danko, senior cultivation editor at High Times Magazine, to give his picks on the world's top travel spots.
Considering factors of availability, tolerance, activities, popularity and overall marijuana culture, Danko ranks the locations according to aspects that make for a favorable marijuana-smoking environment. CNBC.com conducted additional research, including reviews from underground marijuana ratings website WeBeHigh.com.
So, what are the world's top marijuana travel destinations? Click ahead to find out!
By Paul Toscano
Posted 20 April 2010
"Canada’s Eastern regions boast some excellent marijuana and many businesses on Younge St. (known as 'Youngsterdam' in Toronto) and beyond cater to the cannabis connoisseur," says Danko. Although it is against the law to possess marijuana in Canada, enforcement is focused primarily on individuals guilty of trafficking. Marijuana users in Toronto report that police officers are lenient to those who are discreet.
There are various medical marijuana "clubs" in Toronto, although the majority caters only to Canadian citizens carrying medical cards. Kensington Market, Queen Street West, Scarborough Town Centre and the area surrounding Toronto University are all areas where marijuana use is widespread and vendors easy to come by. "Head shops, smoke-tolerant cafes and pot seed retail stores all vie for the aficionado’s attention," says Danko.
A top travel destination for marijuana is located in a U.S. state that was an early adopter of legal medical marijuana laws. The laws passed in Washington State eliminate criminal penalties for most uses, as long as the individual has valid documentation from a physician. In addition, earlier this year, Seattle's city attorney announced that all marijuana-possession cases would be dropped and that marijuana-possession cases would no longer be prosecuted, according to the "Seattle Times."
Danny Danko places the city ninth in part because it hosts Seattle Hempfest, the world’s largest pot rally with more than 100,000 people over two days. "Marijuana violations have been a low priority since the current Federal Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowski was the police chief there. Glassblowers hawk their wares throughout the city," he says.
State By State Guide: Washington Marijuana Facts
This area of Copenhagen has proclaimed itself an autonomous region and is often regarded as a large commune. Locals call it "Freetown Christiania, " Danko says. "Christiania's 'no hard drugs' policy allows pot sales, although its on-again-off-again due to periodic crackdowns." In Denmark the use of marijuana is illegal, but the autonomy of the area has allowed the drug to be sold, despite the government's "normalization" policies.
Danko points to "the main drag called Pusher Street, where pot was sold openly until 2004," and despite the increased government pressure, "hash and skunk stands have returned, albeit quietly."
"Nimbin is the home of the yearly Nimbin Mardi Grass festival and is basically a hippie paradise," says Danko. Danko describes Nimbin as "a must-see pot destination" with his favorite strain of Australian marijuana: "Mullumbimby Madness." Nimbin, which is located in northern New South Wales, Australia, has been described as a haven for Australia's counterculture, including hippie communes and various types of multiple occupancy residences.
Although marijuana is illegal in the Australian state of New South Wales, Nimbin is notorious for its high tolerance to people using and selling the drugs. In recent years, however, the town’s approach has come under increased scrutiny because of its ballooning popularity as a marijuana destination. For a town with a resident population of 352 as of 2006, the proliferation of marijuana-related institutions alone - The Nimbin Hemp Embassy, The Nimbin HEMP Bar and the Nimbin Museum – reflects the town's immersion into cannabis culture.
"The city is home to America’s first Cannabis Café and one of the biggest State Chapters of NORML," says Danko, noting that "Portland is also hosting this year’s National NORML conference for the first time." Like in Oakland and Denver, marijuana users carrying small portions of marijuana are low priorities for law enforcement, although fines and jail time are possible for a range of offenses, including dealing, possession, and sale of paraphernalia.
The city has a bohemian feel and a robust marijuana culture, and WeBeHigh.com lists several areas where the drug can be easily purchased, including the waterfront area and the "park blocks."
State By State Guide: Oregon Marijuana Facts
"Privacy laws in Spain are strong and crimes must have victims, meaning no complaint equals no arrest," says Danko, who points out that Barcelona hosts marijuana celebration festivals and industry conventions like “Spannabis” and High Life Expo, while the city's proximity to Morocco guarantees access to high-quality marijuana and hashish. The town's hot spots are in the Las Ramblas area of the city, as well as Plaça Reial and Carrer Escudillers.
According to Drugpolicy.org, Spain was one of the first modern European countries to decriminalize marijuana. Spanish laws allow for citizens to grow and use a small amount of their own marijuana, although public use and the buying or selling of the drug is a criminal offense. They also note that Spanish laws against trafficking are "among the most severe in Europe."
Although marijuana use is illegal in Jamaica, it is generally tolerated if done discreetly. Users of WeBeHigh.com describe the enforcement situation in Negril as relatively non-existent, although marijuana use near police officers is generally a bad idea. Danny Danko highlights Negril for its "pot tourism, sunshine and plentiful weed, reggae music culture, beaches, drinks and spliffs."
The town is also located on a world-class beach that features several all-inclusive resorts and leisure activities. Danko notes that "decent outdoor marijuana can be cheaply acquired by finding the nearest cab driver or Rastafarian."
"The area dubbed 'Oaksterdam' has pot-friendly coffee shops, growing equipment stores and even a cannabis college, called Oaksterdam University," says Danko. "Non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries such as Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside provide marijuana as well as free acupuncture, massage, yoga and counseling for their patients."
Oakland's cannabis culture is complimented by the city's relatively laxed enforcement and the state of California's allowance for medical marijuana.
State By State Guide: California Marijuana Facts
"One trip down 'Vansterdam’s Pot Block' on Hastings Street and you’ll see how rich the cannabis culture is here," says Danko. "Police are mostly tolerant towards pot so coffee shop-type scenes and marijuana seed retailers can be found with little effort."
Smoking in Vancouver is often done in public places like parks as well as private residences. Marijuana is generally available on the street or in "secret" stores that exclusively sell the drug, which is often referred to as "BC Bud" and is revered for its high quality.
Danko has selected Amsterdam as his top travel destination, largely because of the "hundreds of "coffee shops where marijuana and hashish can be purchased over the counter and consumed." He points out that Amsterdam "is the home of the Annual High Times 'Cannabis Cup' every November and boasts incredible museums and parks as well as ‘trippy’ architecture perfect for a stoned stroll around town."
Although cannabis is technically an illegal substance in the Netherlands, for more than twenty years, Dutch citizens over age eighteen have been permitted to buy and use cannabis (marijuana and hashish) in government-regulated coffee shops. (This results from the government differentiating between "soft" drugs, such as marijuana, and hard drugs, like cocaine and heroin.) Marijuana is "virtually legal" in Amsterdam, but WeBeHigh.com notes that smoking outside designated areas is frowned upon and personal responsibility is encouraged.