Calls in Indonesia’s Aceh for cannabis to be legalised

Calls for cannabis legalisation are on the rise in the otherwise repressive Indonesian province of Aceh to boost development in areas where illicit cultivation is already widespread. 

Indonesia prohibits the possession and use of cannabis and, under the 2009 Law on Narcotics, the herb is a type-1 narcotic, alongside crystal methamphetamine and heroin. 

But cannabis cultivation remains common in Aceh, which has a high degree of autonomy. In other areas, the province is far from liberal. Sharia law has been tolerated in Aceh as part of a peace deal in northern Sumatra to end years of conflict. 

The National Narcotics Agency has set up the Grand Design Alternative Development 2016-25 programme, which aims to reduce the cultivation of cannabis in three Aceh regencies by encouraging farmers to swap to other crops. 

Drinking alcohol or kissing in public in Aceh can result in public whipping under its strict Islamic law.

But Aceh is also Indonesia’s largest marijuana producer with fields covering an area in nearly seven times the size of Singapore, according to government estimates.

In the past, Aceh’s residents have grown the weed in their backyards, often for personal consumption, and it was sold in public.

It was criminalised in the 1970s and Indonesia has since adopted some of the world’s harshest drug laws, including execution for narcotics traffickers.

A drugs “emergency” has been declared in Indonesia amid rampant methamphetamine use.

In Aceh, the authorities arrest cannabis farmers, jail residents for personal consumption and burned more than 100 tonnes of the crop during 2019. 

But last week an Aceh MP proposed in parliament that marijuana should be legalised and exported for medical use. 

His Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) disowned the parliamentarian’s remarks. The national drugs agency said the MP’s suggestion might encourage cannabis farmers Aceh to ignore official calls to switch to other crops.

Marijuana is consumed by 63 per cent of Indonesia’s 3.6 million illegal drug users aged 15 to 65. Legalisation would, therefore, remove millions of civilians from the judicial system. 

Syiah Kuala University’s Musri Musman in Aceh said legalisation would boost the provincial economy as it could be used for medical purposes, food, clothing and cosmetics.

Musri told a seminar on poverty at his university: “I’m certain that if the government legalises cannabis and allow citizens to cultivate the plant, the Acehnese people will be rich and won’t need subsidies from the central government.”

Dhira Narayana, head of the Nusantara Marijuana Network, which has been campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis across Indonesia, said the NGO would call for a judicial review of drugs laws to allow the weed to be used for medical and traditional purposes.


Aceh remains poor. Picture credit: Wikimedia