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Indonesia’s Most Conservative Province Wants to Capitalise On Its Decades-Old Underground Weed Industry

Sharia law reigns supreme in Aceh but cannabis consumption and cultivation is an open secret.
translated by Jade Poa
04 February 2020, 7:28am
weed indonesia
Photo by Hendri Abik 

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

Of all the provinces in Indonesia, Sharia-governed Aceh is the last place you’d expect to be the nation’s weed capital. Now, Aceh lawmakers are calling for the province to capitalise on the illegal plant by exporting it abroad.

Rafli, an Aceh lawmaker who goes by one name, called on President Joko Widodo to legalise cannabis in a meeting between the lawmaking body, the People’s Representative Council (DPR), and Indonesian Minister of Trade Agus Suparmanto on January 30.

“Marijuana can be used for medicinal purposes and more. We should not be so rigid in our thinking. We should be more dynamic. Marijuana has always been seen as a global conspiracy or public enemy number one, while other narcotics are deemed less dangerous. Marijuana isn’t even responsible for the most drug-related incarcerations,” Rafli said at the meeting.

This comes as more countries in the region consider legalising medical marijuna. Thailand became the first to do so in December 2018, while places like Malaysia and Japan are warming up to the idea of legalising medical marijuana. However, the proposal is surprising coming from a representative of Aceh, the most conservative province in Indonesia. There, strict Islamic laws lead to public floggings for offenses like adultery, premarital sex, and alcohol consumption.

Rafli, an Aceh native, is so certain of weed’s potential as an export commodity that he offered to personally scout locations for farming, adding that Aceh’s conditions are conducive to cultivating it.

Indonesia, which has some of the world’s harshest anti-drug laws, classifies cannabis as a class-1 drug, on par with heroin and meth. But in Aceh, weed cultivation and consumption is an open secret; the Acehnese often incorporate it into local cuisine and herbal remedies.

Suparmanto responded that the legalisation of weed would entail a lengthy process of deliberation and research.

Krisno Siregar, Deputy Director of the National Police’s narcotics division, criticised the proposal, arguing that legalisation would lead to misuse of the drug, which he believes would worsen Indonesia’s current state of drug emergency.

“Indonesia is currently in a state of drug emergency, as described by President Joko Widodo on multiple occasions. Police are constantly prioritising the abolishment of drug crimes. If Indonesia legalises marijuana, we would respect that change. But as long as it remains a Class 1 drug, distribution and use will be criminalised,” Krisno said.

Rafli’s fellow DPR members also expressed disapproval of his proposal.

“I was sitting beside Rafli and I was shocked. I never thought such an idea would occur to him. I don’t believe it’s the right path. There are better ways to increase our nation’s GDP. But exporting marijuana? No,” Andre said.

Although weed is not necessarily taboo in Aceh, the province has not been exempt from Indonesia's war against drugs, with the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) claiming to have decreased the number of marijuana plantations in Aceh significantly since 2012. Still, BNN agents continue to find new plantations in Aceh.

Indonesian law enforcement has historically shown no sympathy towards those cultivating weed for personal or medical use. In 2017, West Kalimantan police arrested a man for cultivating marijuana to treat his wife’s Syringomyelia, a rare disease that destroys the spinal cord. He received an eight-month prison sentence and was fined Rp1 billion ($72,800). His wife died a month into his prison sentence.