Strictest Cannabis Laws Around The World

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Halló from Iceland!!! I am solo traveling and living my absolute best life over here, but like any American I still have to put in some work.  (Genuinely not mad about it though as I quite enjoy doing this “work”).  We’ve covered the history of cannabis laws in the US, along with which states permit and don’t permit delta 8 and HHC.  Being abroad had me wondering, what are the cannabis laws around the world?

So far here in Iceland I have encountered one head shop and passed one couple smoking weed.  Recreational cannabis is definitely not legal here, but it doesn’t seem like the penalties are as harsh as some other countries.  Here in part one I’m going to cover the countries that have the strictest cannabis laws around the world.  I’m sticking to regular delta 9 THC for this series because the US is actually the only country in the world to distinguish between hemp and cannabis products; these other places definitely don’t know what they’re missing!


So, despite Brittney Griner making world wide news for getting prison time for cannabis possession in Russia, this country doesn’t even make the list when searching for countries with strictest cannabis laws around the world.  I’m including it though because I was dying to know the specifics after what our unlucky WNBA player went through.  So, in Russia cannabis is considered “List 1” of narcotic and psychoactive substances.  These drugs have the strictest penalties in the country. 

Weirdly, government agencies can reprocess cannabis into another substance in order to use it medicinally, but raw cannabis is a hard no, and you absolutely need a special government license in order to do so.  Even if said agencies were to reprocess the plant, it would not be available to the public.  That being said; if you were to be caught with cannabis, you would be facing between eight and twenty years of prison time.  If you have more than 10 kg (or just over 22 lbs for us Americans), that time can increase all the way up to a life sentence.


Singapore’s cannabis policy makes Russia’s weed laws look like a slap on the wrist.  Cannabis possession or consumption can earn you up to ten years in jail, along with a $20,000 fine.  If you’re caught trafficking, importing, or exporting over five hundred grams, you could even face the death penalty.

United Arab Emirates

With Dubai boasting so many new and exciting attractions (have you seen their dive pool?!), more and more tourists have been choosing UAE as a vacation destination.  Be careful though; these guys are not messing around.  You do not want to get caught with weed here.  Any amount of weed can result in a minimum of four years in jail.  Trafficking?   Say goodbye to life on earth as this can result in the death penalty. 

Even testing positive for cannabis is considered drug possession.  Just passing through with a connecting flight?  Do not risk it!!  The country has insanely advanced security systems which are actually designed to detect even trace amounts of cannabis.  You could even be pulled aside for random drug testing. United Arab Emirates genuinely may have the strictest cannabis laws around the world, although if you keep reading you can decide which other countries are on the board for that dreadful title.


I was pretty surprised to hear that my Turkish coworker had never smoked weed before; looking into their laws now, I definitely understand why.  (I’m still proud to say I got him high for the first time and he was definitely a fan).  Turkish law considers all drugs to be illegal, and there’s no exception for medical use if it’s not from the pharmacy.  Purchasing, accepting, or possessing illegal drugs will result in between two and five years of prison.  If you’re caught dealing, you’re facing a ten year jail sentence.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have bars or liquor stores, you think they’re chill about weed?  Absolutely not!  California sober is not the way to live in this country.  Drugs are actually considered a crime against God, so they take it very seriously… unless you’re part of the royal family, that is.  A prince was caught in 2015 with over four thousand pounds of cocaine and was not punished.  If you’re not royal, you are out of luck. 

Judges decide punishments on a case by case basis, so there really is no “reasonable standard” in terms of punishment.  Punishments can include jail time, deportation (if you’re lucky!) or even a public flogging.  If you’re caught trafficking, no questions asked, you’re gonna be executed.  Not by lethal injection though; you’ll be hanged, beheaded, or shot down by a firing squad.  There’s no exceptions for tourists, so if you choose to go here, for the love of pot do not indulge while in the country.

El Salvador

El Salvador does not make a distinction between types of drugs, so the penalties are the same for marijuana as they are for heroin.  If you have less than two grams, you could face between one and three years of prison.  Over two grams will earn you a sentence between three and six years.  If you’re caught trafficking, the time increases to between ten and fifteen years.  There has actually been some movement to try to legalize cannabis here, but unfortunately efforts so far have been unsuccessful. 


Until 1985, cannabis was used openly in Malaysia.  Unfortunately, the prime minister at the time, Tun Dr. Mahathir, decided to take a leaf out of Nixon’s book and engage in a war on drugs.  Possession of more than two hundred grams will result in a mandatory death penalty.  Shockingly, Malaysia seems interested in possibly legalizing medical marijuana in present day.  This consideration is directly inspired by their neighboring country, Thailand, which legalized medical marijuana in 2018.  Currently, the health minister, has declared that the import and use of medicinal marijuana prescribed by a doctor is permitted if registered and licensed with the Drug Control Authority.  Still, tread carefully if you’re over there as nothing has been made official just yet.


Cannabis consumption in Indonesia can land you up to four years in prison.  Possession can result in up to twelve years of jail time and even up to $563,000 in fines!  Should you be caught with over two pounds, you could be looking at a lifetime in prison.  If you’re caught producing, exporting, importing, or distributing cannabis, you could face up to fifteen years in prison and an even higher fine.  If you’re trafficking more than two pounds of cannabis, the Indonesian Anti-Narcotics Agency can even condemn you to death.


I was shocked to see France consistently making the list for countries with toughest weed laws.  What could be better than getting as high as the Eiffel Tower and enjoying some snails and baguette after staring at Monet’s water lilies?  Apparently, this idea is better in theory than in practice.  France does not differentiate between the drugs considered to be illegal, so heroin, cocaine, meth, and cannabis are all in the same category.  Small amounts of cannabis can earn offenders a year-long prison sentence and a thousand dollar fine.  If caught with larger quantities, the stakes are higher and culprits face between ten years and a lifetime of imprisonment.  Though recreational cannabis is still illegal, medical cannabis was legalized in 2022.  Prescribers and pharmaceutical establishments need to be licensed by the French Health Agency.  Hopefully this is a step towards relaxing their recreational weed laws.


Today I learned that my dream of getting sky high and eating sushi in Japan was not meant to be.  If you’re from Japan and caught with pot, you could face up to five years of imprisonment.  They actually up the ante if you’re a tourist or immigrant.  Jail time increases, you have to pay heavy fines, and you won’t even be able to talk to anyone about the injustice of it all while you’re in there because you’ll be subjected to solitary confinement. 

Even if you have previous drug convictions, you may not be able to visit.  The Rolling Stones were banned from entering the country for years due to their drug convictions. (They were eventually allowed in; one benefit to staying in show business for as long as they have).  Paris Hilton was stopped at the airport and sent back to the states in 2010 due to her drug arrests.  Apparently, you can apply for an entry permit in advance and hopefully avoid traveling all that way just to get sent home.

To Sum It Up

In conclusion: do not risk indulging in the world’s best plant if you’re traveling to any of these countries with the strictest cannabis laws around the world! It’s just not worth it! Be thankful that we don’t run these risks when smoking in the US. Indulge in some delta 8 prerolls or blunts. Maybe HHC disposable vapes or prerolls are more your style. Either way: light up, because there are so many people who are less fortunate and run the risk of prison time, fines, or even loss of life for the same freedoms we take for granted.