Can you use medical marijuana in Antarctica?

Oct 18, 2018 by

Antarctica is one of the few places on the planet to which the journey remains very expensive and challenging, requiring you to go first to South America to set off on one of the very expensive cruises on board the icebreaker, which, moreover, take place only during certain months of the year. Not everyone has enough time, funds and perseverance to get to the South Pole. But there are many scientists there working and using cannabis to survive.

Antarctica is an independent continent that has no government, and although functionally speaking it is a country where there is no law, it is impossible to give a simple, yes or no answer to the question of the legality of marijuana in that area. The Antarctic Treaty prohibits activities such as firing nuclear warheads in the Antarctic but says nothing about cannabis consumption (or any other drug if it matters to you). Thus, the cultivation, use or trade of cannabis is technically legal there. There is no law saying that you can’t do any of these things there.

It is not known what exactly would happen if a tourist was caught smoking pot, but it is doubtful that a tourist company would leave its client in the Antarctic for this reason.

However, scientists working in the Antarctic are subject to the laws of their home countries, just as tourists are subject to the rules of the company that brought them to Antarctica. The crimes committed by tourists in the Antarctic will be prosecuted in their home country. There is no – at least not yet – category of people coming to Antarctica on their own, but in theory, they could do whatever they like.

Whether you are a scientist or a tourist:

– You are usually there as a member of a group that expects certain standards, and you probably had to sign a contract containing a code of conduct.

Explains Oregon soil scientist and breeder Greg Selby.

 Researchers may be subject to stricter controls because someone usually sponsors their stay there.

As Selby explains to us:

– Because you are paid for by the government and live in a university camp, using [cannabis] is usually unwelcome. The only real threat, however, is to be expelled from the camp for violating government or campus policy.

The answer to the question of legality may, therefore, be somewhat vague, but it seems that discretion is the most important, as usual. The answer to the question of how to get marijuana in Antarctica if you feel like it is, surprisingly, a bit simpler.

– Most cannabis used in these areas is used to relieve pain and sleep problems.

Explains Selby.

In 1981, the New York Times described a situation where New Zealand was furious about packages containing drugs sent from the United States to McMurdo Station, the continent’s largest research community. The United States approached the matter surprisingly calmly, working unenthusiastically with New Zealand customs officers.

Although Selby wasn’t in Antarctica, his research focused on cannabis breeding in a polar climate, and he worked with scientists who happened to smoke weed in Antarctica.

In the days preceding the availability of small vaporisers, everything depended on the number of  cannabis flowers[G1]  that people considered safe to smuggle. At that time, it was normal to use apple bongs and to borrow rolling papers from tobacco smokers. Nowadays, you can carry a small vaporiser and a battery of resin cartridges, which you can easily store in your luggage. This makes life much more comfortable.

Although an apple bong evokes nostalgia for teenage times, Antarctica’s long-term inhabitants use cannabis not only for recreation – they may even need them to survive.

– Most of the cannabis in these areas is used to relieve pain and sleep problems. Working 12-16 hours a day can be a bone in! The sun never sets during the working season. You can use blackout curtains and hide in the tent, but your body will never adapt to 24 hours of light so you may need help.

Explains Selby.

Is there something wrong with people whose work can slow down the pace at which our planet is going to die because of climate change, helping each other from time to time with some cannabis?

Selby has an idea of an alternative to taking away enough resin to survive the winter, which nevertheless means some risk during customs clearance.

– In the polar regions, cannabis can be grown in greenhouses or other premises where lighting can be controlled. I hope that one day, when the way of thinking changes, all the people working in those areas will have access to a small garden with medicinal plants. Most of these camps have a small area for ornamental and fruit plants. At a temperature of -40 degrees in winter, the presence of a living plant can improve the mood.[G2] 

Perhaps the first clinic in Antarctica will finally be built, so that scientists and tourists alike can benefit from the goodness of the cannabis there, avoiding the problems of crossing the border with contraband. We need to be able to reach this point finally!


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