As recently as June of 2019, some local Thai government officials signaled feelings about cannabis in Thailand by burning approximately 8 tons, or 18,000 pounds, of it in Nakon Phanom Province. The occasion was to mark “The Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking”.
And this wasn’t the first time.
In 2016, Elementary School students in Beung Kan Province were asked to help burn 120 million baht worth of seized cannabis leaves to teach them the about “the effect of drugs”.
Ironically, the people that attended this event were seen walking in a celebratory fashion through plumes of smoke, said to be coming from harmful, narcotic drugs.
Though we can look at this and have a laugh (I mean really, asking children to help burn weed?), the reality is that getting busted for cannabis related-crimes in and around Thailand can be a serious offense with serious consequences.
Cannabis reform is a worldwide movement that has been happening since it was criminalized. Though there have been many legislative achievements made towards decriminalizing it worldwide since the 1970s, starting first with medicinal use, things are slow and inconsistent in changing.
Realistically, there will be no globally recognized reform anytime soon. At least as long as the Single Convention has anything to do with it.
As the plant is being decriminalized compartmentally, people are still getting arrested and charged with weed all over the world, and the systems of law and punishment look different everywhere.
Cannabis laws are noticeably vague across the ASEAN region, except in countries with a strong religious objection to it, such as Malaysia and Brunei- both of which are primarily islamic nations and have notably strict punishments for cannabis offenses.
Here is an overview of drug laws and punishments in fellow ASEAN countries.
Home sweet home.
In Thailand, cannabis has been decriminalized for medicinal use, but is still subject to prohibition laws of the Narcotics act, which states that the fines/jail sentences are as follows:
- From two to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 – 1,500,000 baht for production, importation or exportation.
- From two to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of 40,000 – 200,000 baht or both for disposal or possession for the purpose of disposal. If the quantity is over 10 kilograms, the penalty is increased to a maximum of 15 years and a fine of 200,000 – 1,500,000 baht.
- Imprisonment not exceeding five years and/ora fine not exceeding 100,000 baht or both for possession.
- Imprisonment not exceeding one year and a fine of 100,000 – 1,000,000 for consumption.
In 1996, Cambodia passed its first law on drugs, called the Law on Control of Drugs. This law declares cannabis illegal, although Cambodians are allowed to grow a small number of plants for medicinal or cooking purposes.
As it states, this law is not applicable to non-Cambodians. Although it is an act of prohibition that has had some harsh punishments, it is known to be enforced opportunistically. The punishment for possession of marijuana ranges from five years to life in prison, as the death penalty was abolished.
In Laos, it is said that punishment for cannabis possession is severe, but it’s hard to really tell exactly what that means, because it’s only loosely applied. In fact, there are many restaurants with “happy” or “magic” menus aimed at giving tourists an opportunity to experience many types of substances in a safe environment, including cannabis.
Formally,The Criminal Code of Laos penalizes possession of narcotics (including cannabis) under Article 135. A recent revision of the code raised the maximum penalty for drug offenses- from 10 years imprisonment, the law now calls for death by firing squad for those found guilty of possessing more than 500 grams of heroin.
It is not known if this law also applies to cannabis, but for the sake of safety, I would assume it does.
In Brunei, cannabis is, like many other things, very illegal and shrouded in stigma. In fact, possession of 500 grams or more of cannabis is punishable by death, and in fact, this has happened.
Possession of lesser amounts can result in a minimum 20-year jail term and being caned.
It should come as no surprise that Singapore has strict laws regarding cannabis because in Singapore there are strict laws and harsh punishments (often fines) for many things that are normal activities in other countries. Namely, selling chewing gum and walking nude at home.
Under The Misuse of Drugs Act, possession or consumption of cannabis in Singapore can result in a maximum of 10 years in prison, with a possible fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars (453,000 baht), as well as caning.
Trafficking, import or export of more than 500 grams may also result in the death penalty.
Cannabis is no joke in Malaysia. In 2018, a man who sold cannabis for medicinal use was sentenced to the death penalty for drug trafficking. A moratorium was later put on his death sentence.
If you’re caught with up to 20 grams, you may be given three to nine lashes. For up to 50 grams, it’s likely that you’ll be sentenced to five years in prison and given a fine of up to 20,000 Malasian ringgit (147,000 baht).
If you’re caught with 200 grams or more, this is classified as drug trafficking by the Malaysian Law Dangerous Drugs Act. Up until 2018, offenders ran the risk of being given the death penalty (which was carried out by hanging). But this has now been scrapped. Even so, it’s still probable that you’ll be given a life sentence.
President Rodrigo Duterte started a drug war on his very first day in office, which claimed thousands of lives and led to his anti-drug message being his first message.
Needless to say, drug laws in the Philippines are harsh. Any person found in possession of more than 300 grams, but less than 500 grams of marijuana, can get 20 years up to life imprisonment with a fine of up to 500,000 pesos. (320,000 baht)
Those found in possession of 300 grams of marijuana or less can still face up to 12 years in prison with a fine of up to 400,000 pesos (approximately 250,000 baht).
During his campaign, President Duterte said that he supported medical marijuana, but that he would leave any decision to the concerned government department. A medical marijuana bill was introduced to the 16th Congress of the Philippines in 2014, but failed to pass. It has been re-submitted to the 17th Congress and is currently under review.
Vietnam still has fairly strict marijuana policies that they choose not to enforce on tourists. However, the police can still legally arrest you for marijuana and sentence you to a lifetime of hard labor in a Vietnamese prison or even death.
The cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis are illegal in Vietnam. However, cannabis is widely used among locals and very easy to find in most populated places.
Myanmar was one of the few countries that protested the international prohibition of cannabis in the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs agreement of 1961. They defended the plant’s medicinal benefits and its lack of addictive qualities when compared to other drugs.
However, since then the country has adopted one of the most severe anti-cannabis laws in the world.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law (1993), in its original form, states that any ‘drug user’ found in possession of cannabis “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend from a minimum of three years to a maximum of five years.”
The offender is also obliged to undergo treatment, regardless of whether they have an addiction to cannabis or not. The law states that any offender who fails to attend treatment “shall be punished with imprisonment.”
According to this law, even “accepting a narcotic drug unlawfully” is a punishable offense and if the amount of cannabis found in the user’s possession is between two and 75 grams, the court will regard it as ‘possession with intent to sell’, which incurs a harsher sentence.