You can smoke weed in all but 12 US states legally. Yes, about half of those states have “medicinal marijuana,” but we all know what that means: “Doctor, I have a headache! “Really? Poor you! Here’s a prescription for cannabis!”
However, in Asia, there’s only one place where smoking up won’t get you into rather serious trouble. Thailand became the first Asian nation to legalize medical cannabis in 2018, although there were quite a few restrictions. But in the summer of 2022, Thailand decriminalized ganja, as it’s locally called, and released 4,200 prisoners. The health minister of Thailand announced just before legalization that the government would distribute one million free cannabis plants to people across the country. You can now buy and consume cannabis legally in Thailand but be polite and smoke courteously; smoking or vaping in public places is considered a public nuisance.
Meanwhile, about 1,200 miles to the south of Bangkok, Tangaraju Suppiah was executed by the Singaporean “justice” authorities on April 26th for coordinating a cannabis delivery of 1 kilo or 2.2 lb. Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, was hanged even though prosecutors agreed that he never actually touched the marijuana. He was killed by Singapore for allegedly helping work out the logistics of the delivery, and all prosecutors needed as proof were his phone records.
Under Singapore law, trafficking more than 500 grams (17.5 ounces) of cannabis can result in the death penalty. In 2022 Singapore executed a total of 11 people for drug offenses, with one case sparking international condemnation as the Malaysian citizen executed was, according to his lawyers, mentally disabled.
Naturally, Amnesty International and Asian anti-death penalty groups strongly condemned the execution, calling it “reprehensible.” Most people in North America at least, would likely agree with that verdict, even if they don’t support legal weed and or support the death penalty for offenses such as murder. Hanged for a kilo of weed? It seems insane. And the jarring contrast with Thailand only makes it more bizarre.
Singapore’s nearest neighbor Malaysia has ended mandatory death penalty laws while keeping strict sentences on the books for traffickers. But Singapore isn’t budging, saying their research shows traffickers now carry below the threshold that would bring the death penalty – which is why the threshold is insanely low. In the case of cannabis, just 500 grams.
Singapore has no plans to stop the hangings anytime soon, so we strongly recommend that any marijuana enthusiast stay away from Singapore in general, but more specifically, under no circumstances or for any amount of money, be tempted to try and smuggle any greenery into the repressive city-state.
A little further north on the island of Taiwan, activists have asked the government to move cannabis from Schedule 2 (the same category as amphetamines and ecstasy) down to Schedule 3. Very strangely, while Ketamine is a drug that can kill, it’s somehow considered less dangerous than cannabis in Taiwan and is a Schedule 3 narcotic. Taiwan’s government came out in April 2023 with a strongly worded statement saying they firmly opposed the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis and cannabis products. The gov’t response came after a petition to legalize marijuana reached enough signatures to require a reply.
Taiwan has very strict laws for traffickers but first-time users are technically considered “patients,” who need help. Therefore, if you are busted with a reasonably small amount in Taiwan, you will go to a wing of a prison for a couple of months for “rehabilitation,” which consists of nothing more than sitting around and chatting with other drug offenders, the majority who are serving time for amphetamines, Taiwan’s drug of choice.
Also in recent years, Taiwan has reduced the penalty for people growing marijuana if the number of plants is low and if they can claim some sort of medical reason. Today such an individual would go to jail for only one year, whereas in the past it could have been 7 years. The penalty was reduced after the courts ruled 7 years was unconstitutionally long. –Hence the hope for further Court rulings by many tokers in Taiwan.
Thailand, unsurprisingly, has seen a nice boost in tourism since decriminalization. And for those 4,200 people released from prison, it must have been quite a nice shock to go from a cell to home where potentially someone was waiting for them with a freshly-rolled joint. But again, Thailand is the ONLY Asian nation that’s made changes to weed laws.
This article is about Asia, so we won’t get bogged down with info from the rest of the world, but it is surprising to see how many places are still very much stuck in the “reefer madness” era – even, for example, France.
Not far from Thailand is Indonesia where possession of marijuana or hashish (in the same category as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines) will get you anywhere from 4 to 12 years in prison. And Indonesia will also execute you if you try to smuggle something like heroin in any decent quantity into the country.
Some might think Japan would be a bit open-minded on this, but absolutely not. Marijuana in Japan is the most expensive in the world at almost US$60 a gram and busted Japanese stoners go to jail for 5 years for a first offense quite commonly.
So, what’s the issue with Asia? As Thailand’s authorities pointed out, cannabis has a rich history in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia. It’s been used as a medicine for centuries. Introduced to Thailand from India, women giving birth have traditionally been given cannabis for pain, laborers used it to soothe aching muscles, and it’s also a food ingredient.
So again… why? Why is most of Asia so unchill about green?
The answer is that aside from Thailand, countries in Asia still subscribe to the old idea of marijuana as a gateway drug. And the problem is: they are making it exactly that. If you had no fear about smoking a joint after work at home, a joint that you purchased at a shop legally, why would you feel the need to make a connection with a drug dealer?
But if you’re in Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, China, or pretty much anywhere else in Asia, if you want to smoke up, you’ve got to find a dealer. And of course, dealers are very likely to have other substances and can offer a weed smoker a tab of acid or a hit of ecstasy. In short, these repressive laws in Asia are indeed causing cannabis to become a “gateway drug,” a situation easily remedied by decriminalization.
It’s heartbreaking to think that a human being was hanged for facilitating the purchase of a kilo of a plant that he never even touched. Hopefully, regardless of pro or anti feelings, we can all agree that Singapore killing someone for such a non-violent crime is indeed “reprehensible.”
While we wait for Asia to reexamine their draconian weed policies, however, should you be into weed and planning a holiday to Asia this summer, go with Thailand.
Thailand should offer a case study in why these other nations’ policies are so wrong. Hopefully what the science from Thailand will show is deaths from drunk driving, overdoses from methamphetamines, violence caused by speed or yaba, and a host of other societal ills are alleviated by the legalization of cannabis. The next 5 years, for example, will be instructive, and many in Asia are looking forward to having strong evidence from a fellow Asian nation that decriminalization does not result in Ragnarök.
Good for you Thailand! Stoners of the world: let’s all plan a Thai vacation, and support this bold move. Our condolences to the family of Tangaraju Suppiah. May he rest in peace, and may his death one day be seen for what it was: state-sanctioned murder.