The Jakarta Post
Every now and then you might come across headlines about those who are arrested in Indonesia for smuggling marijuana, while some are nabbed for growing cannabis for medicinal use or producing marijuana-laced cake, and you might wonder: How illegal is cannabis in the country?
Despite growing calls across the world for marijuana legalization – with some countries, including Thailand, already allowing the use of the drug for medical purposes and other countries decriminalizing recreational cannabis – Indonesia still adamantly prohibits the consumption of marijuana, even as an alternative for medical treatments.
The 2019 Global Drug Survey (GDS) put cannabis as the world’s most commonly used drug after alcohol and tobacco. It is also the most used illicit drug in Indonesia, according to 2015 data from Indonesian’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN).
The psychotropic drug, which has mind-altering compounds known to give a sensation called "getting high", can be used in a variety of ways. It can be smoked, ingested after using it as an ingredient for food, vaporized and used as an extract.
According to the BNN, marijuana users make up 63 percent of the country’s 3.6 million illegal drug users aged 15 to 65 years old.
Illustration of a man rolling marijuana. (Shutterstock/File)
How illegal is marijuana in Indonesia?
Cannabis is strictly illegal in the country, meaning you cannot be found in possession of marijuana, or caught smoking weed or baking marijuana-laced brownies, unless you want to go to jail.
According to the 2009 Narcotics Law – one of the strictest drug laws in the world – cannabis is a type-1 narcotic alongside 65 other drugs including opium, cocaine and methamphetamine.
In general, there are three classifications of narcotics, and according to Article 7 of the law, they all can be used only for medical and research purposes, except for type-1 narcotics, which are also forbidden for medicinal use.
The production of narcotics is also heavily regulated, with type-1 narcotics explicitly banned except for certain research purposes.
Unauthorized handling of marijuana is a criminal offense. According to Article 111 of the law, marijuana possession can result in a sentence of up to 12 years’ imprisonment and a Rp 8 billion (US$581,782) fine.
Producing, exporting, importing and distributing marijuana can result in charges under Article 113 and a sentence of up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a Rp 10 billion fine. Those involved in the marijuana trade risk a 20-year prison sentence and a Rp 10 billion fine, as stipulated in Article 114.
As for type-1 narcotics in general, possession can result in charges under Article 115, which carries with it a 12-year prison sentence and Rp 8 billion fine.
Providing others with drugs for consumption can carry up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a Rp 10 billion fine, according to Article 116. Using narcotics on one’s own results in four years in prison, according to Article 127.
Illegal grows: Denpasar Police chief, Sr. Comr. Hadi Purnomo (left) shows marijuana trees seized from Bali fashion designer Nandi in a press conference on July 11, 2018. (JP/Ni Komang Erviani)
How strong is law enforcement against marijuana use?
Throughout 2019, the BNN and the National Police uncovered 33,371 illegal narcotics cases with a total of 42,649 suspects arrested for various charges.
Cannabis made up the bulk of the collected evidence in the cases, with 112.2 tons of marijuana seized in crackdowns. Other drugs seized in the operations included 5.01 tons of methamphetamines, 1.3 million ecstasy pills and 1.65 million PCC pills.
Marijuana cases brought to the country’s courts generally ranged from low-level cannabis possession cases and marijuana cultivation to the smuggling of weed, which in some cases reached up to more than 1 ton of marijuana.
In 2015, for instance, the Denpasar District Court in Bali sentenced an Australian national and an Indonesian to one year in prison for smoking weed. They were caught with a used marijuana joint weighing 0.1 grams and 0.86 grams of marijuana in brown paper.
Read also: Man jailed for cannabis for dying wife
In one of the most famous cases that triggered debate over the medicinal use of cannabis, the Sanggau State Court in West Kalimantan sent Fidelis Arie to eight months in jail in 2017 and gave him a Rp 1 billion fine after he was found guilty of using cannabis oil to treat his ailing wife.
Fidelis was arrested on Feb 19, 2017, and taken to court for growing 39 marijuana plants in his home and extracting cannabis oil for his wife’s treatment. His wife, however, died on March 25, roughly a month after his arrest.
Late last month, a United States citizen was arrested in Jakarta for possession of 1 kilogram of marijuana-laced brownies and five bottles of vape liquid containing cannabis, with the police accusing him of smuggling the substance. The foreigner claimed he did not know that marijuana was illegal in Indonesia.
This photo taken on December 10, 2019 shows coffee roasted with marijuana brewing in Banda Aceh, Aceh province. The contraband mixture of cannabis and coffee is a hit with locals and buyers in other parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago, who pay Rp 1 million (75 USD) for a kilo of it. (AFP/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN)
Are Indonesian people consuming marijuana?
Historically, the cannabis plant was first brought by the Dutch from India in the 19th century – during the Dutch colonial era – as a pesticide for coffee plantations in Gayo, a mountainous area in what is known today as the Indonesian region of Aceh.
Although cannabis is widely known for being smoked, Aceh has traditionally used marijuana seeds as spices for various local dishes as well as for herbal medicines, such as to treat diabetes.
Despite the law, cannabis cultivation remains widespread in the conservative Muslim province, with farmers growing marijuana as commodities and households also often growing several cannabis plants in their backyard, though they are not often sold for commercial use.
Is medical marijuana really a thing?
According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, medical marijuana is a term that “refers to using the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions”.
The marijuana plant contains a chemical compound called cannabidiol (CBD), which is usually extracted into an oil and sold as pills, gels, creams and other forms of remedies to treat pain, seizures and other health problems.
Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that cannabis can be used for medicinal purposes, including to treat nausea, pain, loss of appetite, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, muscle spasms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Fidelis, for instance, argued before the court that his late wife – who was diagnosed with a rare spinal cord disease called syringomyelia – saw her conditions improve after being treated with cannabis oil, as it allowed her to sleep well and gave her an appetite.
A police officer shows marijuana during a press conference in Jakarta on Nov. 5, 2019. West Jakarta Police precinct destroyed drugs seized during raids over the past three month raids. (AFP/ADEK BERRY)
Will cannabis use remain criminalized in Indonesia?
In most parts of the world, marijuana use is illegal for both recreational and medical purposes, following the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961 that put marijuana on par with opium and cocaine as narcotic drugs even though the substances are wildly different.
Some countries have started waves of decriminalization of cannabis, both for recreational and medical use, such as Canada, Georgia, South Africa and Uruguay, in addition to Washington, DC, and 11 states in the US, including California, Massachusetts, Illinois and Colorado.
Calls pushing for the legalization of marijuana are on the rise in Indonesia, with some figures from Aceh, including a House of Representatives member from the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), Rafli, saying that Indonesia should consider using cannabis from Aceh as an export commodity.
However, it appears there is still a long way to go for cannabis decriminalization in Indonesia, as even the Indonesia Cannabis Movement (LGN), which has pushed for a revision of the 2009 law on narcotics since 2010, has seen little success to date. (afr)