While a steadily increasing number of countries and states have caught on to the beneficial properties of cannabis and legalized its use for medicinal – or even recreational – purposes, others clearly did not get the memo.
These are some of the most terrible places in the world when it comes to being arrested for use or possession of marijuana. And by terrible, we mean terrible. The smallest amount of marijuana can get you in big trouble! The consequences of a microscopic piece of cannabis stuck to the sole of one’s shoe are frighteningly disproportional. This happened to Keith Brown, a British tourist passing through Dubai. He was sentenced to four years because of those 0.003 grams.
Be sure to count your blessings if you live in Colorado, California or Oregon (or in the Netherlands, Spain, or other places with a fairly friendly legal system). Middle-Eastern and Far-Eastern countries are reputed for their extremely harsh sentences and to make matters worse, their prisons are known to be absolutely horrible. Time in jail is never an enviable experience, regardless of how one ends up there, but in certain countries prisons have the reputation to be quite the hell-hole.
If you are a cannabis user and happen to travel to or through one of the following countries, don’t get caught. Better even, be smart enough to take a cannabis ‘pause’ until you’re back in a safer place.
1. The Philippines
We’ve all heard about the recent political changes in the Philippines: Duterte and his new policies for dealing – no pun intended – with drugs. First-time offenders are now sent to rehab for six months, and that’s really all the leeway you can expect. Second-time offenders will be spending no less than six to twelve years in prison.
The omnipresent religious vibe in the land of temples could certainly get you in a spiritual mood. Considering a shamanic journey to the swirls of some sweet ganja? Best hold on to that urge. Save it for somewhere deep in the Amazonian rain forest. Getting caught with even a little bit of cannabis in Thailand is no joke. For merely using and a small amount of cannabis, expect a prison sentence of up to one year. For possession of larger amounts (with or without the suspected intention to sell) the sentence can range from two to fifteen years in prison. All the above may or may come combined with a large fine. It won’t come as a surprise that marijuana is subject to the same law that covers heroin, cocaine, meth, crack or ecstasy.
Singapore has very harsh anti-marijuana laws, although the police is said to be rather lenient towards foreigners. As long as you don’t smoke right under their noses, things should be fine, is what some people say. Again, not something I’d care to put to the test personally. What the legal code says isn’t quite so laid back. Possession of more than 500 grams of cannabis is punishable by death. Possession or consumption of lower amounts is good for a huge fine of up to $20,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Similar to Singapore, rumor has it the police in Malaysia usually leaves tourists alone. That being said, marijuana is illegal in Malaysia and the law is again very harsh. Both consumption and possession are heavily punished in good old medieval ways (think: lashings) up to the death penalty. Fifty grams of marijuana is good for a jail sentence of five years. Larger amounts may lead to capital punishment.
In China, things are a bit fuzzy when it comes to marijuana legislation. Marijuana is considered a narcotic substance. Anyone who has anything to do with it – including, but not limited to: smuggling, trafficking, manufacturing – risks lengthy prison sentences (up to life) or even the death penalty. China isn’t very open about these things, but a photo reportage from 2003 was first published in 2011. These are the touching last images of four Chinese women convicted of drug trafficking on the day of their death sentence.
6. Saudi Arabia
In case of a first-time offense, you may get off easy with just six months in jail. Let’s say for argument’s sake that after having spent six months in a Saudi-Arabian prison, you haven’t had enough and get caught again. (Which by the way would make us all wonder what you’ve been smoking…?!) The second time is good for a jail sentence of seven years. By then you’ll probably have developed some kind of taste for the Saudi prisons. Unfortunately, a third offense won’t get you there, as it is good for a death sentence. Third time’s a charm, and will put a definitive end to merry Jane’s fairy tale in the land of one thousand and one nights.
Possession of even the smallest amount of cannabis is subject to a four-year prison sentence. Possession isn’t just what you can hold in your hand (or on your body) either. Any traces of THC still circulating inside your body or bodily fluids count too. Good to keep in mind if you’re planning a tour of Europe and the Middle-East combined. Maybe schedule that stop-over in Amsterdam after visiting Dubai, not before. For more fun, I’d advise to just spend some extra time Amsterdam and skip Dubai all together.
Being a global city, Dubai occasionally finds itself in the spotlight with foreigners being sentenced to death for relatively small amounts of cannabis. The same goes for other United Arab Emirates. As a result, convictions have been overturned and the lucky folks in question ended up in prison instead of in front of a firing squad.
While Dubai with its draconian marijuana laws is the most notorious one, the United Arab Emirates as a whole also deserves to be mentioned. For those of us who don’t remember this from the geography lessons back in school (raising hand) the UAE consists of seven emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.
Possession of cannabis is punishable by a four year prison sentence. Selling marijuana can lead to up to 25 years behind bars. Depending on the amount of cannabis found in your possession, you may be accused of trafficking, which is punishable by death. In the UAE, a firing squad is used to carry out the death sentence. Not quite as medieval as death by hanging, but it is still very 1800’s.
9. South Korea
Marijuana laws in South Korea aren’t quite as bad as in some countries. We’re talking prison here, not the death penalty. South Korea does have something in common with Dubai though: The police is allowed to stop you on the street to test for drug use. They can demand a drug test from anyone, and you won’t get out of it. Using a hair follicle to test for cannabis use can trace things back as far as a few years! Regardless of when or where it was, any kind of positive results in your “historic THC database” will get you arrested.
A veil of mystery surrounds this country and in addition to the many question marks regarding other topics, its legal stance on cannabis is also nuclear… oops, typo – unclear. There are rumors that the use of cannabis may be allowed, or at least accepted, but I wouldn’t want to put that theory to the test.
Let’s take a wild guess. There’s probably one person in the country who does whatever the heck he wants to. Since people who smoke marijuana are generally on the friendlier end of the spectrum, and definitely non-violent, it is doubtful he’d be the type. As for the other 25,159,999 North-Koreans: they aren’t even allowed to decide on their own hairstyle. The freedom to choose what to grow or smoke? Seems unlikely, but hey – you never know.