International Cannabis Laws Create Dangerous Confusion

globe of the world

As Canada leads the charge in worldwide cannabis reform, the laws governing marijuana consumption and possession are needing to become more and more detailed. Officials who enforce the cannabis laws in other countries seem just as confused as the people they arrest for drug offenses, and enforcement is spotty at best. Those who dare to flout their country's cannabis laws while abroad can be subject to a variety of punishments, depending on the country involved and how high profile their case is. We've been gathering reports of how cannabis laws in other countries – and even those in the United States – have created multiple crises and true horror stories for individuals who consume marijuana.



Cannabis Crackdowns in Singapore

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Singapore has some of the toughest cannabis laws in the world. Possessing or consuming marijuana in Singapore can result in a long stint in prison, and a hefty fine. If you find yourself arrested for cannabis, you can face up to 10 years in jail and a fine that can reach up to S$20,000. That's a heavy-handed sentence for the mere possession or consumption of even the smallest amount of weed, but things get far worse if you're caught with more than 500 grams. To be fair, there's no reason to have that much weed unless you're planning to traffic or sell it – but Singapore's oppressive punishment for that is overboard.

In 2016, one man found out the hard way that Singapore does not mess around with marijuana. Chijioke Stephen Obioha was a soccer player who left Nigeria and touched down in Singapore in 2005, to strut his stuff for a club he liked. It seemed like his dreams were coming together until April 2007, when he was caught with 14 bricks of weed on his person. This finding caused officers to escort him back to his flat, where another 14 bricks were uncovered in multiple locations around the unit.

Obioha was sentenced to death by hanging on December 30th, 2008. He appealed the conviction, but his appeal was struck down in 2010. He filed to be considered for a resentencing in 2015, but abandoned the application in April of 2016. Other attempts at stalling the death penalty included filing a motion for stay of execution, another to change his sentence to life imprisonment, and to petition the President of Singapore for clemency. Each attempt failed, and Obioha was hung on November 18th, 2016. He was killed alongside a Malaysian man who was convicted of importing over 83 grams of diamorphine, also known as heroin. The two crimes appear starkly different in terms of harm, but make it disturbingly clear that drug laws in many other countries view marijuana as on par with heroin.

China's Cannabis Laws

man smoking a joint

China's laws on drug crimes are severe to say the least. In December of 2017, 10 people were publicly put to death in a gruesome stadium setting with thousands of spectators, and seven of them were there for drug-related crimes. Hong Kong's laws against marijuana are the strongest in China, with cultivation  of marijuana punished by 15 years in jail and HK$100,000. This hard line on cannabis produces a fair amount of cognitive dissonance in combination with the fact that China produces 50% of the world's cannabis and hemp, and holds over 600 patents on cannabis-related tech. One student from the United States experienced this huge gap in practice and law when in China to teach English.

23-year-old Matthew Fellows left the United States permanently and moved to China with the intent of teaching English to schoolchildren. He even secured a place in the student body of Nanjing, and was thrilled to start his new life. In a terrifying turn of events, Matthew found himself imprisoned for eight months, sharing a cell with 15 other men. During this time he survived on porridge and a cup of rice a day. Why? Someone had accused him of lighting a joint and passing it to his friends – enough to earn him a drug trafficking offense in China.

After months of trying to find out what happened to Matthew, lawyers hired by his family found that the whole situation stemmed from a jealous acquaintance who was into his girlfriend. The accusation of Matthew smoking the joint carried one count of drug offense, and the other three stemmed from his alleged sharing with a few friends. More than two counts gets you the death penalty in China, which makes these some of the harshest cannabis laws in other countries.

South Korea's Hardline on Cannabis

jar of cbd and leaf that could be illegal under cannabis laws in other countries

Despite South Korea legalizing medical cannabis, the nation still has a deeply rooted stigma around marijuana that's reflected in their drug laws. Smoking weed won't get you killed in South Korea, but can get you up to five years in prison. The unique thing about South Korea's law system is the idea that what you do outside the nation is still policed under domestic laws.

Upon Canada's announcement of legalization, the South Korean government loudly proclaimed their intent to prosecute those who smoke cannabis even while outside the country. Yoon Se-jin, head of a Korean narcotics investigation unit, told the Korea Times: "Weed smokers will be punished according to the Korean law, even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal. There won't be an exception."

How will this be enforced? It's unclear. Obviously not everyone returning from a foreign country can be screened, but some high-profile targets are selected for monitoring. South Korea is known for making public examples of celebrities who are caught with cannabis, including several K-Pop stars and notable recording artist Psy. South Korea provides the perfect example of how cannabis laws in other countries are often more concerned with upholding the letter of the existing law than creating a response that works outside of theory.

Conflict at the Canadian Border

beautiful lake in vancouver, canada

As Canada has created more space for crossed wires in cannabis laws, it's no surprise to find the U.S. is creating unnecessary tensions over marijuana at the border. The United States response to Canada's legalization was to announce a ban on cannabis workers. The text of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) press release stated: "as marijuana continues to be a controlled substance under United States law, working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S."

After deserved outcry, the CBP changed the statement to say "a Canadian citizen working or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S."

Despite this reversal, recent headlines have decried the lifetime ban placed on a Canadian cannabis investor who was foolish enough to state that his reason for entering the U.S. was a trip to MJ Bizcon. In addition to the single investor given the permanent ban, 12 others headed to the same conference were detained and harrassed for hours. This charade between neighbors is the perfect example of why it's critical for every nation to create reasonable, enforceable policies in regards to cannabis laws in other countries.

Marijuana Moving Forward

close up of a marijuana joint stacked on another joint and a white background that could get you in trouble under cannabis laws in other countries

Legal cannabis is spreading throughout the world , and there's not much harsh laws can do to stop it. All these conflicting international laws regarding marijuana do nothing but create hassle at the least and deep tragedy at most. The countless lives affected by international gaps in the law should be enough for governments to reconsider their approach, but only time will drive the reform the world so desperately needs.