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Drug Laws in Bali and the Rest of Indonesia

Indonesia Imposes Harsh Penalties on Foreigners Caught With Illegal Drugs

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Schapelle Corby is sentenced in Bali on drug smuggling charges.

In a Bali courtroom, Schapelle Corby reacts with shock to being sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on drug smuggling charges.

Image © Getty Images.

The drug scene in Indonesia is something of a contradiction. Indonesian drug laws are among the strictest in Southeast Asia, yet the use of illegal drugs is relatively high in some parts of the country.

Indonesia's war on drugs is somewhat compromised by the country's size and island geography. The Indonesian anti-narcotics agency BNN does not have enough resources to monitor the country's endless miles of coastline, through which marijuana, ecstasy, meth, and heroin manage to slip through with regularity.

This should not be taken as a green light to indulge, though. The Indonesian authorities are ready to make an example of foreigners who use illegal drugs in their jurisdiction. Bali's Kerobokan Prison houses plenty of foreigners who thought they could game the system and lost the bet.

Penalties for Drug Use in Indonesia

Under Indonesian Law No. 35/2009, the country's controlled substances list is divided into three different groups. Chapter XV of the 2009 law lays down the penalties for each group, while the Appendix lists all the drugs that fall into each group. Possession and trafficking of all the drugs listed in the Appendix are illegal, unless undertaken by people or companies approved by the government.

A PDF file of the law (in Bahasa Indonesia) can be downloaded here: Indonesian Law No. 35/2009 (offsite). You can also refer to this document: English Version of the Indonesian Narcotics Law - International Drug Policy Consortium (offsite; the Appendix is missing).

Group 1 drugs are viewed by the Indonesian government as therapeutically useless with a high potential for causing addiction. Group 1 drugs merit the weightiest sentences - life imprisonment for possession, and the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers.

  • Possession is punishable by 4 to 12 years' imprisonment, and fines of IDR 800 million to 8 billion (US$89,600 to US$896,000). If the drugs exceed 1 kilogram (for raw drugs like marijuana) or 5 grams (for processed drugs like heroin and cocaine), a maximum punishment of life imprisonment may be imposed.
  • Trafficking is punishable by 5 to 15 years' imprisonment and fines of IDR one billion to ten billion (US$112,000 to US$1.2 million). If the volume of drugs exceeds 1 kilogram (for raw drugs) or 5 grams (for processed drugs), the death penalty may be imposed.
  • Drugs in Group 1, a partial list: heroin, cocaine, marijuana, hashish, mescaline, MDMA (ecstasy), psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, amphetamine, methamphetamine, opium and its derivatives

Group 2 drugs are seen by the law as useful for therapeutic purposes, but dangerous due to their high addictive potential.

  • Possession is punishable by 3 to 10 years' imprisonment, and a fine of IDR 600 million to 5 billion (US$67,200 to US$560,000). If the volume of drugs exceeds 5 grams, 5 to 15 years' imprisonment may result.
  • Trafficking is punishable by 4 to 12 years' imprisonment and fines of IDR 800 million to eight billion (US$89,600 to US$896,000). If the volume of drugs exceeds 5 grams, the death penalty may be imposed.
  • Drugs in Group 2, a partial list: morphine, methadone, oxycodone, pethidine and hydromorphone

Group 3 drugs are seen as therapeutically useful and moderately addictive, but not to the same degree as the drugs in Group 1 or 2.

  • Possession is punishable by 2 to 7 years' imprisonment, and a fine of IDR 400 million to 3 billion (US$44,800 to US$336,000). If the volume of drugs exceeds 5 grams, 3 to 10 years' imprisonment may result.
  • Trafficking is punishable by 3 to 10 years' imprisonment and fines of IDR 600 million to five billion (US$67,200 to US$560,000). If the volume of drugs exceeds 5 grams, imprisonment of 5 to 15 years may be imposed.
  • Drugs in Group 3, a partial list: codeine, dihydrocodeine and buprenorphine

The penalties listed here are not absolute – Indonesian judges may take mitigating circumstances into account and impose a lighter sentence as a result.

Rehabilitation and Appeal

The law permits accused drug users to be sentenced to rehabilitation instead of prison time. Article 128 of Indonesian Law No. 35/2009 allows underage users (those under 17 years of age) to be sentenced to rehabilitation instead. A 2010 ruling (offsite) issued by the Indonesian Supreme Court lays down the rules by which rehabilitation may be chosen instead of prison, including a maximum amount of drugs in each group that need to have been found on the user at the time of the arrest.

Should a death sentence be imposed, prisoners are allowed to appeal to the district High Court, then the Supreme Court. Failing that, a death row prisoner may appeal to the President of Indonesia for clemency.

Appeal is a double-edged sword – higher courts are allowed to increase sentences, as they did with four members of the Bali Nine whose sentences were upgraded by the Bali High Court from life in prison to death. (These sentences were knocked back to life imprisonment by the Indonesian Supreme Court.)

Drug Dealers in Kuta, Bali

Though the anti-drug laws in Bali are pretty strict, drug dealers still operate with some impunity, especially around the Kuta area. Tourists have reported getting whispered solicitations for mushrooms and marijuana from locals in the vicinity. It was one such solicitation that got this Australian teenager in trouble. He’d been offered about $25 in drugs by a street dealer - he accepted, and the narcotics police pounced on him afterward.

Sure, you might get a stealthy offer of drugs from some back-street drug dealer in Kuta, but said drug dealer is just as likely to be working with a narcotics cop in a drug sting. Be forewarned. Should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of one of these whispered sales pitches, walk away.

What to Do If You Are Arrested in Indonesia

While traveling in Indonesia, you are subject to Indonesian laws. For American citizens, the American Embassy in Indonesia is duty-bound to extend its assistance in the event of their arrest, but it cannot secure their release.

The American Embassy in Indonesia (jakarta.usembassy.gov) should be contacted in the event of an arrest: they can be reached at +62 21 3435 9050 up to 9055 on workdays. After hours and on holidays, call +62 21 3435 9000 and ask for the duty officer.

An Embassy officer will brief you about Indonesia's legal system and provide you with a list of attorneys. The officer can also notify your family or friends of the arrest, and facilitate the transfer of food, money, and clothing from family or friends back home.

Notable Drug Arrests in Indonesia

Frank Amado, arrested in 2009, sentenced to death in 2010, awaiting appeal. Amado, a U.S. citizen, was found with 11 pounds of methamphetamine. (Antaranews.com)

Schapelle Corby, arrested in 2005, due for release in 2024. 9 pounds of cannabis were found in her boogie board bag at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport. (Wikipedia)

The Bali Nine, arrested in 2005, sentenced to life imprisonment and death. Australian citizens Andrew Chan, Si Yi Chen, Michael Czugaj, Renae Lawrence, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, Matthew Norman, Scott Rush, Martin Stephens and Myuran Sukumaran were involved in a scheme to smuggle 18 pounds of heroin to Australia. Chan and Sukumaran were the group's ringleaders, and were meted the death penalty. The rest were sentenced to life in prison. (Wikipedia)

Unidentified Australian boya 14-year-old was caught with a quarter of an ounce of marijuana on October 4, 2011. Police captured him together with a 13-year-old friend after they emerged from a massage salon near Kuta Beach. The maximum sentence in his case would have been six years, but the judge decided to sentence him to two months, including time already served. He flew home to Australia on December 4.

The guide would like to thank Hanny Kusumawati, Chichi Nansari Utami and Herman Saksono for their invaluable assistance in the creation of this article.

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