This is the nightmare situation. You’re taking a holiday in a country you’ve never visited before. In a bar, you get chatting to a few locals, and one of them candidly offers you some weed. Stoked at the opportunity to get high in a foreign country, you nod enthusiastically, find a safe spot and light up. As you make your way through the joint, enshrouded in a haze of giggles and contentment, you hear an iron voice from behind you, “Police! You’re coming with us.” You’re bombarded with stern voices speaking in foreign tongues about the threat of some extensive jail time, all for a little bit of marijuana.
We may bemoan the lumbering progress of the compelling and irrefutable argument for cannabis legalization in our own country, but we’re really pretty lucky. Some countries across the world have implausibly draconian laws, with places like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia executing people for trafficking in large amounts. Most of us aren’t interested in importing drugs into countries with monstrous laws, but we might fancy a joint if we’re on holiday somewhere. This article runs through some countries you might want to avoid if you’re off on a marijuana world tour or are looking to move permanently.
The Japanese public generally sees drug use as an admission of deep seated evil. The public get up in arms over people being caught with marijuana, so you are unlikely to be treated with any sympathy. Under the Cannabis Control Law in Japan, being caught with even a single joint can get you a five year prison sentence with some hard labor thrown in for good measure. They’ll be a little more lenient if it’s your first time, but you’ll still get around a six month sentence. Foreigners aren’t likely to be jailed, but will be deported from the country with no hope of ever going back.
In the Philippines, you don’t get much leeway either. The first time you’re caught smoking a joint you can be sent to rehab for at least six months. If you are persistent enough to try again, the next time could land you in jail for between six and twelve years. If you get caught growing weed, you’re looking at anything from life imprisonment to the death penalty. The Philippine Dangerous Drugs Act will make your life a living hell. One man was jailed for 15 years after being caught with two “sticks” (assumedly meaning joints) of marijuana.
Another country you would do well to avoid is Malaysia. Possession of cannabis can land you in jail for up to five years (Section 6), and carries a fine of up to 20,000 ringgit (around $6,500). If you are found with over 50 grams, the sentence is at least five years, plus a possible lashing of at least ten strikes (Section 39a). Planting a cannabis seed can get you life in prison plus at least six lashings (Section 6b). In 2010, a man was jailed for a total of eight years for being found with just less than 58 grams of cannabis. One charge was only based on 12.65 grams (less than a half ounce) and carried a sentence of two years. The worst case scenario, getting caught dealing a lot of cannabis, can lead to the death sentence.
If you’re journeying across Southeast Asia and fancy a stop in Bali, marijuana should definitely be off the menu. Getting caught with a single joint in Indonesia can lead to a jail sentence of up to four years. If you accidently or purposefully import any cannabis, you can be put in prison for between five and 15 years. One famous case involved an Australian named Schapelle Corby, who ended up with 20 years in jail, skipping off on a possible sentence of death by firing squad. This is probably the only time 20 years in an Indonesian jail could be considered “lucky.”
United Arab Emirates
Possibly the most extreme laws come in the United Arab Emirates. Getting caught in Dubai with even the tiniest trace of cannabis can get you a minimum mandatory sentence of four years. In some extreme circumstances, if you’re caught with any in your blood or urine, this can be considered “possession.” It’s worth noting that these absurd laws even extend to things like poppy seeds (the kind you might be covered in if you eat seeded bread on your flight). One man has been jailed for four years because he was found at the airport with a cigarette trodden into his shoe. Inside, the authorities found 0.003 grams of cannabis, and that was enough. Unless he’d come up with a bizarre way to carry his last, tiny joint, it’s safe to assume this wasn’t even his. In the UAE, it clearly doesn’t matter.
Unless you want to end up in some dingy, mortifying prison for an extended sentence, don’t smoke marijuana in these countries. That one joint you’re being offered in a dingy bar can cost you several years of relatively safe smoking time at home. For once, the best advice is to just say no. However, the real tragedy is for the natives: they never even have a chance to enjoy marijuana without taking an extreme risk. The next time you smoke a joint, toast to the people of Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, and hope that one day their absurd marijuana laws are repealed.
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