The move may spur on similar plans by other cash-starved governments, with Canada gearing up for the nationwide legalisation of marijuana from July.
So could Europe be next?
Although there are varying levels of toleration of personal use of the drug, no EU country has legalised cannabis so far, says the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). However, there are signs that some European countries are moving in that direction.
In December, Norway’s parliament started the process to decriminalise illicit drugs and to shift the focus to treatment options, rather than criminal prosecution, for users found with small quantities, the HuffPost reports.
In ten other nations – Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – the law does not allow imprisonment for possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use only, although the drug remains illegal.
Holland’s famous “cannabis cafes” are not strictly legal – authorities simply tolerate unlawful acts taking place inside.
Portugal is arguably the EU country that has come closest to legalising cannabis. In 2000, all illicit drugs were decriminalised in an attempt to get to grips with a national heroin crisis. People found using or possessing small quantities of such drugs are sent by police to a “dissuasion commission”, which can fine them.
California legalised marijuana for medical use two decades ago, but no EU nation has followed suit as yet. However, while smoking cannabis remains illegal, Sativex, a cannabis extract also known as nabiximols, is an authorised medicine in 18 EU countries, including the UK.
Looking to join that club is Greece, which sees the potential financial benefits of legalising marijuana as a partial solution to its economic crisis. Last summer Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was bringing forward legislation allowing its use for medical purposes. According to The Independent, Tsipras said: “From now on, the country is turning its page, as Greece is now included in countries where the delivery of medical cannabis to patients in need is legal.”
The agriculture minister, Evangelos Apostolou, said growers had already expressed an interest in investing €1.5bn (£1.3bn) into projects to build greenhouse parks for cannabis production in Greece.