Despite Thailand’s current experiments with the decriminalisation of cannabis, all other south east Asian countries remain firmly opposed to any recognition of the drug beyond it remaining on their lists of illicit drugs – some countries retaining draconian penalties for trafficking and use.
This week, Indonesian police burned an 11 hectare marijuana plantation in Aceh, North Sumatra, after it was discovered by local authorities in February. Aceh Police Chief Ahmad Haydar announced to reporters that combined with another field in West Aceh, the total area was 43 hectares, producing 190,000 cannabis stems ready for harvest.
Aceh is a semi-autonomous Indonesian province on the northwest tip of Sumatra Island and dominated by hardline Muslim theology.
Indonesia has one of the harshest anti-drug policies in the world, with President Joko Widodo instructing law enforcement officers in 2017 to shoot drug traffickers as a measure to tackle the country’s “drugs emergency.”
Last year, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court rejected a judicial review of the country’s narcotics law that would have opened up the possibility of legalising marijuana for medicinal purposes.
This anti-drug policy is not unique to Indonesia. In many countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam and (until recently) Thailand, drug trafficking is a serious criminal offence punishable by death or long prison sentences.
In some cases, even possession of drugs can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment and corporal punishment.
Despite the harsh laws, the use and trafficking of illegal drugs continues to be a problem in the region, particularly up in the notorious Golden Triangle, a border zone on the Thai, Laos and Burmese borders.
Governments in Southeast Asia have taken various measures to combat drug trafficking and use, including increased law enforcement and education campaigns. However, some experts argue that these policies may not be effective in tackling the root causes of drug use and addiction, such as poverty and social inequality.