The legality of cannabis varies from country to country. Possession of cannabis is illegal in most countries, and has been since the beginning of widespread cannabis prohibition in the late 1930s. However, many countries have decriminalized the possession of small quantities of cannabis, particularly in North America, South America, and Europe. Furthermore, possession is legal or effectively legal in the Netherlands, North Korea, and the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado at the state level.
The medicinal use of cannabis is legal in a number of countries, including Canada, the Czech Republic and Israel. While federal law in the United States bans all sale and possession of cannabis, enforcement varies widely at the state level and some states have established medicinal marijuana programs in that contradict federal law; two states (Colorado and Washington) have repealed their laws prohibiting the recreational use of cannabis and replaced them with a regulatory regime, also contrary to federal statute.
Some countries have laws that are not as vigorously prosecuted as others but, apart from the countries that offer access to medical marijuana, most countries have various penalties ranging from lenient to very severe. Some infractions are taken more seriously in some countries than others in regard to the cultivation, use, possession or transfer of cannabis for recreational use. A few jurisdictions have lessened penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, making it punishable by confiscation and a fine, rather than imprisonment. Some jurisdictions/drug courts use mandatory treatment programs for young or frequent users, with freedom from narcotic drugs as the goal and a few jurisdictions permit cannabis use for medicinal purposes. There are also changes in a more restrictive direction as in Canada. Drug tests to detect cannabis are increasingly common in many countries and have resulted in jail sentences and people losing their jobs. However, simple possession can carry long jail sentences in some countries, particularly in parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia where the sale of cannabis may lead to a sentence of life in prison or even execution.