Top Ten Countries with the Strictest Drug Laws

A look at drug use and trafficking in some of the most strictest nations in the world.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Some countries with strict drug laws also have the worst drug problems in the world. In this article, we look at these laws, their purpose, and how a country’s political motivations affect people. 



What Defines a “Strict” Drug Law?

To define “strict”, we’ve had to form an answer based upon opinion. As we’ve observed in the U.S., public sentiment has varied about laws regarding marijuana use and possession. Some people do not see value in marijuana as medicine. Others felt that recreational use is completely justified. A counterculture fought back and, eventually, laws began to change.

So, when are drug laws helping and when do they hurt? Are drug laws fair? Is sentencing for drug possession justified or unjustified? For example, in South Korea, you can be charged with a heavy fine as well as a long jail sentence for having a personal amount of cannabis on you [1].

Though it’s agreed that even “softer drugs” come with their own dangers, we do need to examine punitive measures that governments take to try to regulate use or trafficking. These “strict drug laws” can include sentences such as:

  • Hard labor
  • Large fines
  • Long amount of time in jail
  • Sometimes the death penalty

It should be noted, when it comes to fixing a drug problem, stricter laws may not necessarily curb use. What we need to do is work together to provide people with education as prevention. For those already struggling with a drug addiction, we not only need to provide them with this education but offer them to opportunity for treatment.

With that in mind, let’s dive into our list of the countries with the strictest drug laws in the world.

People struggling with addiction need treatment to get well.

#10 Japan

To begin, over-the-counter medications have much stricter guidelines when compared to the United States [2]. Common necessities such as inhalers or certain allergy medications are illegal to carry in large supply, especially if any of the carry stimulants such as pseudoephedrine. If you’re planning to visit Japan, be aware that their law allows up to a two month’s supply of allowable over-the-counter medication and vitamins.

When it comes to illicit drugs (anything from marijuana to heroin), Japan doesn’t mess around. If you’re are caught with any of these drugs, even if they were obtained legally elsewhere, you will be detained by customs officials and questioned. This, likewise, will happen for certain prescription medications when you enter Japan. Particularly, stimulants such as Adderall. Many American prescription medications are banned in Japan and, therefore, cannot be brought into the country by an American. However, if your prescription meets the Japanese laws, you will be allowed to possess up to one month of your medication.

For those who do get caught within the country, you can expect harsher penalties for even just a minor offense [3]. For holding a small amount of drugs, you can be imprisoned anywhere from one to ten years with a fine of up to 5,000,000 yen (close to $45,000 USD). If you end up deported due to these breaks of the law, you won’t be allowed in the country for five to ten years.

#9 Vietnam

When you’re caught with drugs in Vietnam, most of the time, you’re sent to a rehabilitation center. The Vietnamese government has a goal of cleaning up its citizens rather than punishing them. Especially due to the fact that drug use is on the rise in the country [4].

However, there is a catch to these rehabilitation centers. Unlike those in Western countries which promote psychotherapies after detox, in Vietnam, you’re put into forced free labor. The biggest issue with this is prior addicts usually aren’t given any idea of a release date and can be held for long periods of time. Those who have gone against the rehabilitation centers, have reported that they’re often severely beaten by guards.

#8 China

If you’re a drug dealer in China and caught by law enforcement, there’s a chance you’ll face the death sentence [5]. The roots of this conflict come from China’s cultural attitudes towards drug addiction. It’s considered to be a personal failure rather than a disease and, therefore, drug use is highly condemned.

An issue China’s attempting to handle is the rising problem of illicit drug use. Like Vietnam, certain cities such as Beijing have incorporated punitive rehabilitation centers. However, in China, these facilities contain even harsher forced labor and consequences to those who don’t follow rules. The biggest issue with this is the state decides whether or not somebody is an addict. So, if you’re caught with a drug and it’s your first time using it, even though your body hasn’t adjusted to an addiction, you may still be considered an addict under Chinese law.

This harsh punishment can also be witnessed in Chine detox centers. Standardly, it takes anywhere between a week to a few weeks for your body to completely detox from a drug. But in a Chinese detoxification center, you can expect to be in a forced detox for upwards of three years. This is followed by another three years within a rehabilitation center which normally should last less than a year.

#7 Singapore

Strict laws are an aspect of life in Singapore which tend to take tourists by surprise. For example, according to Business Insider, you can receive up to a $1,000 fine if you’re caught littering. When it comes to drugs, these laws become even more consequential.

Typically, drug dealers are executed if they are caught [6]. Yet, what Singapore considers a trafficker is very loose. People who are holding half an ounce of marijuana are considered dealers even if they’ve never shared their stash with anyone else. It’s due to these notions of drug users that make drug use in Singapore incredibly risky.

In another example, if drugs are found on your property, you’re automatically assumed to be the possessor of them, unless you can provide reason otherwise. Even if you avoid the penalty of death, chances are you’re going to spend a large amount of time in jail for being in possession of drugs.

If you’re planning to visit the country, it helps to understand which prescription medications are allowed and how to inform the authorities of your possession of them. You can find information on this here.

#6 Dubai

As with many of the countries on this list, Dubai isn’t afraid to give you some long years in jail for possession. There’s a minimum of a 4-year jail sentence for having an illicit substance on you. Additionally, if you have traces of a drug within your bloodstream or urine, it’s automatically classified as a possession charge. Similar laws apply to those who actually get caught with drugs in their hands.

These laws go as far as to charge you if you have poppy seeds on your clothing from eating something containing the ingredient. The biggest complication arises when considering how powerful the technology and security of airports located in Dubai are. It’s so strong that even residual amount of a drug will be found and cause complications with Dubai customs officials.

#5 North Korea

It comes to no surprise that it’s rare for drugs to enter the North Korean territory. As can also be expected, little is known when it comes to North Korea and drugs as so little information can be obtained from the country. What we do know is possession of drugs can lead to the death penalty [7]. Furthermore, due to investigations within Taiwan and Japan, North Korea has been associated with large illicit drug shipments of methamphetamine and heroin [8].

#4 Indonesia

Drug laws in Indonesia are similar to Dubai in the sense that they prosecute you for having drugs in your bloodstream [9]. However, it’s their form of prosecution that really takes things to a new level – the death penalty.

There is a zero tolerance policy for drugs within Indonesia [10]. In 2009, a law was enacted which gave consequence to people who didn’t even take drugs. If your child is taking an illicit substance and you’re aware of it, you must report it to local authorities. If you don’t, brutal consequences will be carried out for the entire family.

These harsh penalties aren’t kept from tourists either. There have been numerous accounts of foreigners being executed for being in possession of drugs.

#3 Iran

Iran is one of the world’s largest opium producers (the main ingredient for heroin) and also has one of the largest drug problems in the world. Yet, their laws on drug use are extremely strict. So much so, it’s resulted in more than half of the country’s convictions to be that of drug charges. Yet, at the same time, there are efforts being made to curtail these force laws and, instead, help people struggling with addiction through treatment facilities [12].

The biggest reason Iran is so high on our list is due to the fact that the country struggles economically and, therefore, some citizens produce large fields of poppy in order to make a living. With that in mind, it comes to no surprise many have fell victim to a heroin addiction. And prior to recent efforts, the penalties for drug possession have often resulted in death.

When we consider these two factors – mass production of drugs with high drug use and very strict laws – an understanding develops as to why Iran is a dangerous place for a drug abuser to find themselves in.

#2 Islamic State (ISIS)

The stakes are high in the territory captured by the terror group ISIS primarily because there are no official laws enacted. Rumors have spread and leaders have spoken, but ultimately, there’s no true way to identify what you can and can’t do in the Islamic State. What we do know is public lashings are common for those caught in possession of drugs [11]. Though this may not be as bad a consequence as the death penalties mentioned above, the real horror is nobody within the territory truly knows what they can and can’t get away with.

Again, there are currently no written laws enacted for the people caught within the area. To top it off, it’s speculated ISIS is in control of various illicit trafficking in and around the mid-east [13]. Therefore, they could be persecuting individuals committing crimes at a degree much less than their own.

At the end of the day, the Islamic State is high on this list due to its harsh consequences and unpredictability involved around drug use and possession charges.

#1 Saudi Arabia

What brings Saudi Arabia to the top of our list is, like some other countries listed above, execution is common for simple drug possession. However, the country isn’t afraid to publically execute criminals only to leave their bodies on display as a warning sign.

The biggest issue within Saudi Arabia isn’t necessarily their drug issue, but rather their over corruption. Police aren’t afraid to prosecute even the innocent or torture them as a means of admitting to a false confession. In the first half of 2015, 100 criminals were publically executed [14]. Half of them were non-violent drug offenders.

Your Questions

If you have any further questions pertaining to strict drug laws in other countries, we invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any advice to give to our readers about these drug laws, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to respond to every comment in a prompt and personal manner.

Reference Sources:
[1] GOV.UK: Foreign Travel advice for South Korea
[2] U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Japan: Traveling with Personal Medication
[3] Student Handbook: Drug Laws in Japan
[4] Foreign Policy at Brookings: A Slow March from Social Evil to Harm Reduction: Drugs and Drug Policy in Vietnam
[5] Foreign Policy at Brookings: A People’s War: China’s Struggle to Contain its Illicit Drug Problem
[6] Today Online: Significant support for death penalty
[7] U.S. Department of State: U.S. Relations with North Korea
[8] CIA World Factbook on Korea
[9] Talking Drugs: Life or Death in Indonesia
[10] UK.GOV Foreign Travel Advice to Indonesia
[11] International Business Times
[12] Library of Congress: IRan Drug Law Amended
[13] RT NEWS
[14] Human Rights Watch: 100 Executions in 2017
Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine: Integrated medical rehabilitation delivery in China
Brandeis University: Drug Policies in the Islamic State of Iran
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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