At the time of writing, there are 21 American states where marijuana is illegal; both medicinally and recreationally. In Alabama for example, personal cannabis use (any amount) is a ‘misdemeanor’ and carries a 12-month prison sentence along with a maximum fine of $6,000. Sale of any amount of weed is a felony and if convicted, you will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in jail with a maximum sentence of 20 years!
However, the laws surrounding marijuana in the United States are becoming more lenient. As well as being legal for medicinal use in 29 states and recreational use in nine states plus D.C, possession of small amounts of weed has been decriminalized in 13 states. Elsewhere around the world, there are countries with cannabis laws so strict that they make Alabama look like Bob Marley’s dream vacation spot! Here are five nations with some of the harshest marijuana laws on the planet.
1 – Singapore
Anyone who is familiar with Singapore’s draconian drug laws won’t be surprised to see this nation on the list. After all, this is a country known for its ban on chewing gum! Its Misuse of Drugs Act classifies narcotics into three categories. The law states that the burden of proof falls on the defendant so if you’re caught, you’re basically screwed. Singapore’s laws mean that only 0.005% of its population uses weed, compared to over 8% in the UK for example.
Possession of the tiniest amount of cannabis could lead to a 10-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine. If you’re caught with 15+ grams of marijuana, you’re automatically classified as a trafficker which could potentially mean life in prison. If you’re caught with 500+ grams, life becomes death as you will be executed.
While many of the high-profile drug cases involved heroin, the case of Shanmugam Murugesu was a real eye-opener and further proof, if any was needed, that marijuana isn’t welcome in Singapore. He was found with a kilo of weed after returning home from a trip to Malaysia in 2003. Despite his clean record, and the fact he had served in the military, he was executed in 2005.
2 – United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is a no-go area for weed lovers because it takes its Zero Tolerance attitude to narcotics very seriously. For instance, Dubai has been described as a ‘police state’ by travelers and the authorities are always on the lookout for potential drug use. The mandatory minimum sentence is four years in prison if you’re caught with a trace of marijuana on your person; and UAE police adhere to the law in a very literal sense, as unfortunate British tourist, Keith Brown, found to his cost in 2008.
Brown received a four-year prison term after 0.003 grams of weed was found stuck to his shoe by Dubai customs officers. In another case, a man was arrested after poppy seeds from a bread roll were found on his clothes. Some tourists have been held for possession of legal prescription drugs. By the way, if UAE authorities perform a drug test and you test positive, it counts as possession!
Perhaps needless to say, those caught trafficking drugs, including marijuana, in the UAE sometimes face the death penalty. In the event you are caught selling drugs and NOT sentenced to die, deportation is likely along with a prison sentence of at least ten years. For the record, there are places where you can purchase weed in Dubai; but at $50 a gram for schwag, and the possibility of four years in prison, it most certainly isn’t worth it!
3 – Malaysia
We came across a terrible story in the Malaysia Star which began with the following cheerful proclamation: “It’s the gallows for a Thai woman who was caught carrying more than 18kg of cannabis.” Unfortunately for drug trafficker Thitapah Charoencheua, she felt the full force of the incredibly strict marijuana laws in Malaysia where execution for sale and trafficking of large quantities of illegal drugs is normal.
You might be thinking: “18 kilograms IS a lot” and you’re right. But what if we told you that in Malaysia, being caught with possession of over 200 grams of weed will result in the death penalty? Yes, death by hanging is mandatory if you possess what isn’t an enormous amount of weed. You’ll also be hanged if caught with 40+ grams of cocaine and 15+ grams of heroin.
If you are caught with up to 50 grams of marijuana, you’ll probably receive a five-year jail sentence along with a fine of over $5,000 if caught with 20+ grams. Possession of 50-200 grams of weed leads to a minimum five-year prison term along with ten lashes in some cases. Of the 900+ people on death row in Malaysia, over 700 are there for drug offenses. One man received the death sentence in 2009 for possession of 622 grams of marijuana; the sentence was handed out some six years after his arrest.
4 – Philippines
You could argue that weed laws in the Philippines are not as strict as other nations on the list because it is relatively lenient for first-time offenders. According to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, you’ll receive a six-month spell in rehab if caught with marijuana for the first time. If you don’t learn your lesson and you offend again, you’ll pay severely!
Second-time offenders are shown no mercy with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of six years which could rise to 12 years in some cases. Cultivation of some cannabis plants could see you spend the rest of your life behind bars. The dictatorial leader of the Philippines, President Duterte, is in favor of bringing back the death penalty for marijuana cultivation because at present, Filipino law doesn’t endorse the death penalty.
This has been the case since the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Despite Duterte’s desires, there’s a chance that the Philippines could go the other way and legalize weed for medicinal purposes. In 2017, the Philippines House Committee approved the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act which will be a game changer if signed into law.
5 – Turkey
Turkey has among the most bizarre cannabis laws in the world. Although it is legal for limited medical and scientific use, illegal consumption of marijuana results in extremely severe penalties. Remarkably, cultivation of weed is legal in Turkey for medicinal and scientific purposes, but only in 19 states.
In Turkey, cannabis is lumped in the same category as heroin and consumption of any illegal drug can see you put behind bars for two years. We have heard stories where the sale of marijuana has led to prison sentences of up to 24 years. The mandatory minimum jail sentence for selling weed is ten years, it increases to 15 years if you’re caught selling to a minor.
In recent years, the Turkish government has cracked down hard on drug offenses; ever since the chaos began in Syria, which is one of Turkey’s neighbors. According to Turkish drug laws, if you’re involved in a drug transaction that involves two or more people (all drug transactions in other words), you’re deemed to belong to a criminal organization which is why prison sentences are so stiff. By the way, Turkish prisons are notorious for the brutal treatment of inmates; it is normal for a cell to house 50 people!
Final Thoughts on Strict Drug Laws
In our experience, the nations with the strictest cannabis laws tend to be in the Middle East or Southeast Asia. Islamic countries have especially harsh punishments as a rule and prisons in most of these countries are exceedingly dangerous. In such jails, prisoners are treated inhumanely by correctional officers who know they can get away with almost anything.
To be fair, there are several American states where possession of a relatively small amount of weed results in a ridiculous prison sentence. However, at least none of our states have the death penalty for weed possession, and you won’t go to jail because some poppy seeds from bread fell on your clothes! It seems remarkable that countries can punish people so severely for using something grown naturally. Sadly, that’s the world we live in so if you’re planning to visit any of the countries mentioned in this article, don’t even think about using marijuana.