The United States is constantly making headway state by state as far as cannabis reform goes. For those who benefit from using it medicinally or who enjoy it for recreational use, people don’t have to live in the fear that they once did of facing criminal charges. Unfortunately, this is not the case for people in other countries where drug laws are so harsh that even death is on the list of penalties. If traveling the globe is in your future, be aware of the penalties you could face if you’re caught with cannabis in any of these three countries with the harshest punishments for cannabis possession.
United Arab Emirates
If traveling to the United Arab Emirates, be aware of their zero tolerance drug laws, which include cannabis. Individuals found with a minimal amount of any drug face a possible four-year prison sentence. Harsh as that may seem, just the presence of any drug in the bloodstream is considered possession. If an individual is found to be guilty of drug trafficking in the UAE, they face the unfortunate possibility of being sentenced to death. The UAE is very strict in terms of their drug laws, making them one of just a few countries in the world that dole out such a harsh punishment. In fact, as recently as 2012, a young British man was reportedly caught selling cannabis to an undercover police officer. The penalty? If convicted, he’d face death by firing squad. Fortunately, his death sentence was commuted to a four-year prison term. Laws in this region are very strict in several other regards, as well. So brushing up on them might literally save your life if you have plans to travel to this region. While death by firing squad isn’t enforced very often in the UAE, risking it by possessing cannabis is certainly not worth it.
In Japan, the punishment for getting caught with cannabis is only one part of the penalty; shame also weighs heavy on anyone who gets busted. One man, referred to in an article as Tsuyoshi, dropped a baggy containing a minuscule amount of cannabis in a convenience store. His decision to go back and retrieve it later was an ill-fated choice, as the clerk had reported him to police and he was arrested for his crime. One of the lucky ones, he only had to spend five days in jail as opposed to the normal sentence for such an offense of five years in prison plus hard labor. The Japanese culture is rooted deeply in tradition, and so anyone caught committing a drug crime not only faces the criminal penalty, they face the shame of being caught for a crime that’s considered deplorable. For Tsuyoshi, his minor offense landed him a spot in the local newspaper and he had to make a public apology. Foreigners, on the other hand, face deportation and the likelihood that they won’t ever be able to return. What’s so shocking about how strict their cannabis laws are is that it wasn’t illegal until 1948. Prior to that time, cannabis played an important role as a useful fiber in materials.
Indonesia is another country that doesn’t take kindly to the use of cannabis. Consider the case of Nicholas Langan, an Australian on vacation there. He was caught smoking half a joint with another man and arrested. Pleading with the courts for leniency, he faced a possible four-year prison sentence instead of the maximum twelve. In the end, he was sentenced to one year in prison and immediately deported after his release. As with other foreigners who commit a drug crime in Indonesia, he was blacklisted and will very likely never be allowed to return. For Langan, he could be considered one of the lucky ones. Indonesia, just like the UAE, enforces the death penalty for certain drug offenses. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, also from Australia, were actually jailed in Indonesia during the time that Langan was facing his legal trouble there. They were facing the death penalty for smuggling heroin into the country. On April 29th, 2015, they were both executed by firing squad.
In addition to the above-mentioned consequences, long stays in jail without the aid of attorneys or fair representation are common. For foreigners facing language barriers and lack of support, their struggles are even more complicated and stressful. Many are unaware of the laws beforehand or underestimate how heavy-handed the consequences are. As these stories highlight, the laws around the world in regards to cannabis are not as lax as those in other places. For those who legally enjoy the use of cannabis here in certain parts of the United States, it’s nearly impossible to imagine.