A country with ancient use of cannabis
Cannabis use has never meant major problems in Indonesia. Unfortunately, prohibitionist policies are prevailing. Despite the high prevalence of cannabis use among the people, local or national discussions on cannabis policies are nearly non-existent.
They tend to be exacerbated by strong anti-drug views and public institutions’ failure to design and implement comprehensive policies based on evidences. Because of the current anti-narcotics law, there have been many problems to research on cannabis. No matter if the studies are for medical purposes or simply anthropological research.
Traditionally the use of cannabis has been found in the area of Sumatra, in the north. Prohibitions in production and use of cannabis began by the Dutch colonial government in the 1920s. However, cannabis is the most widely used illegal substance in Indonesia, with more than two million users in 2014. But according to the regular narcotics law, cannabis is included in the most restrictive Schedule I list, along with other substances like heroin, crystal meth and shabu. The drug policies don’t recognize cannabis as a soft drug. Therefore the penalties are more or less the same.
In Indonesia the law is very ambiguous. If you are caught with cannabis, even a very little quantity, you will be accused of dealing. However the corruption among police officers is enormous and if you have money to pay them a bribe you can be released. If not, be ready for the worst. Cops are mostly interested in money. The local people have not much. Therefore, they usually aren’t bothered by policemen. The officers know they will not have money for the bribe. But being a westerner is another matter.
Government is trying to alleviate prison overcrowding. Cannabis users are sent to rehabilitation centres. But this situation is becoming useless. Mostly because users don’t think they are addicts and, therefore, a rehabilitation program is absurd. Decriminalizing use and possession for personal use and small-scale cannabis cultivation for personal use could resolve several matters ranging from prison overcrowding to extortion of users by law enforcement officers, who are very corrupt.
From the beginning, the use of cannabis for traditional, recreational and medicinal purposes in Indonesia was in the North Sumatra. This happens because this area is close to India, where cannabis has been historically used. There aren’t concrete evidences as to how the use of cannabis spread from North Sumatra to the rest of Indonesia. Fortunately cannabis began to be used more commonly than other substances like opium. Not only that. Its use spread all over Indonesia.
While the first prohibitions of cannabis were attributed to international developments on cannabis, the government of post-independence Indonesia decided to keep the prohibition system. The absurd outdated categorization of cannabis as a Schedule I substance seems to have very negative impacts not only on cannabis-related offenders such as users and farmers, but also on those victimized due to the illicit distribution of highly addictive drugs such as heroin and crystal methamphetamine. By wasting the scarce public resources on arrests, prosecutions, imprisonment, and unnecessary obligatory rehabilitation programs for cannabis users, policy-makers are failing to address the real needs of drug abusers, who will remain marginalized unless the government shifts its attention from supply-reduction efforts to policies based on scientific evidence and harm-reduction principles. The recent escalation of the war on drugs in the country has helped foster the practice of corruption and extortion among policemen, who have got profits, either directly or indirectly, from the regular and absurd prohibitionist laws.
Cannabis is the favorite ilegal substance in Indonesia. Decriminalizing its personal use, possession and self cultivation would be economically beneficial. It would also pave the way to minimizing troubles such as prison overcrowding, police corruption and extortion practices.