The Toughest Cannabis Laws From Around the World

Because not all countries enjoy the greener things in life.

Written by

Ali Mans Cornwell

Alisdair is an experienced researcher who has been writing extensively about hemp and cannabis since 2018. His work has been published on many cannabis publications such as Dr. Ganja, DailyCBD,...

CBD Oracle's Editorial Process
Map of countries with cannabis plant
Advertisement for THCA flower

All varieties of cannabis, be it hemp or marijuana, have gotten a lot of positive attention over the past couple of years, mainly due to legalization and acceptance in Europe, Canada, and the U.S.. 

However, not every country shares the same love and affection for this wonderful group of plants. Many countries around the world strictly prohibit all forms of cannabis and cannabis accessories. Some regions still believe CBD is a psychotropic substance. Go figure!

If you’re caught possessing, using, selling, distributing, or smuggling cannabis into these countries practicing strict prohibition, you’re likely to be met with the full force of the law, resulting in very harsh fines, long prison stints, or death.

So, which countries have the toughest cannabis laws?

Man holding marijuana flower in hand
CountryPrison Sentence for Marijuana Possession
Nigeria4 Years
Uganda5-10 Years
Tunisia5 Years
France1 Year Or Fine
Sweden6 Months to 10 Years
Slovakia3 to 5 Years
Saudi Arabia1-6 months + Lashes
UAE4 Years
TurkeyFine or 5 Years Prison (Min. 2 years)
El Salvador1-6 Years
Venezuela2-3 Years
Singapore10 Years + SG$20,000 + Caning
MalaysiaFine + 2-5 years + Lashes
Indonesia4-14 Years
PhilippinesUp to Life Imprisonment
BruneiUp to 30 Years + $20,000 Fine
Alabama (US)1 Year + $6,000
Iowa (US)$1,000 Fine
American Samoa5 Years + $5,000
China15 Days Detention Or Fine
Russia15 Days – 3 Years
Japan5-7 Years + $20,000
Maximum prison sentence for use and/or possession of marijuana for first-time offenders. The severity of punishment depends on the quantity of marijuana in possession (e.g. 2 grams vs 500 grams).

Cannabis Laws in Africa

African rastafarian men smoking marijuana

1. Nigeria

Nigeria prohibits all forms of cannabis, including hemp, hemp-derived CBD products, and high-THC marijuana, despite having a thriving black market, especially for marijuana. Hemp is also grown in many parts of the country, though no official industry exists, even after government officials recommended establishing one for additional revenue. 

As outlined in Nigeria’s National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act (NDLEA),  punishments for marijuana are strict. Possession and use can lead to a mandatory four years in prison, regardless of quantity. If the offender is below the age of 17, sentencing is reduced to lashes and time in a youth detention facility — a large fine might be handed out too. 

For more serious offenses (importation, cultivation, production, sale), offenders could face life imprisonment. 

Unfortunately, police corruption is rife in Nigeria. If you’re caught with drugs, officers may force you to pay a bribe or face prison time. Foreigners are targeted more often than locals.

2. Uganda

In Uganda, cannabis (also known locally as “bhang”) is totally illegal, though enforcement is oftentimes poor or non-existent in certain regions and areas (including airports). This, alone, is why drug trafficking and smuggling have increased. 

If caught with weed and you’re met with the full force of the law, you could face a maximum of 5-10 years in prison, yet this is solely dependent on quantity. 

Like Nigeria, police corruption is an obvious issue. Those caught with drugs (cannabis or otherwise) are often forced to pay a bribe or risk being thrown into a detention center or jail, usually for a substantial amount of time.

In 2020, Uganda legalized the production and exportation of medical cannabis under strict guidelines and regulations. The Ugandan government signed a deal to export cannabis to Germany and Canada.

3. Tunisia

Historically, Tunisian drug laws (cannabis or otherwise) have been infamously strict, more so than many other African countries. It’s no surprise really. The country follows Islamic law, which severely prohibits the use of all illicit drugs.

Drug offenders caught with small quantities of cannabis faced a mandatory prison sentence of up to one year under the country’s 1992 Narcotics Act. Fines of no less than $400 were also handed out. 

The problem with this was twofold. The harsh sentence was disproportionate to the offense committed and the judge handing out the sentence had no judicial discretion, meaning any mitigating circumstances were not taken into consideration. 

Thankfully, Tunisian drug law reform has come into effect. As of 2017, an amendment to the country’s Narcotics Act (specifically Act 92-52) now grants judges more power to use judicial discretion when sentencing drug offenders. Many offenders are pardoned without imprisonment or fines. 

However, this doesn’t mean all drug offenders are off the hook. Personal possession and use of drugs (cannabis or otherwise) is punishable by up to five years, while dealing cannabis can land you in jail for up to 10 years.

However, if you’re caught smuggling or trafficking narcotics into the country—irrespective of whether it’s cannabis, cocaine, heroin, or prohibited prescription medications—you’re in a whole heap of shit. Life imprisonment is a common punishment.

Cannabis Laws in Europe

Europe, in general, is pretty relaxed about cannabis laws compared to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. While no EU member state has legalized recreational cannabis, there are now over 20 countries with solid medical marijuana programs, and a further five countries have decriminalized cannabis for personal use. There are, however, certain countries still with relatively strict cannabis laws.

4. France

France is often referred to as the EU country with the harshest cannabis laws. The land of the Eiffel Tower has prohibited marijuana since the 1970s, branding it as a dangerous narcotic able to encourage addiction and harm. 

If you’re caught using or in possession of cannabis, the punishment can be up to an on-the-spot fine of €200 ($240) or one year in prison and a fine of €3,750 ($4,570)

This punishment hasn’t deterred the French. France is one of the largest consumers of recreational cannabis in Europe with over 11% of the population having consumed cannabis in 2019.  

France has only very recently introduced the idea of allowing medical marijuana. There are a few select medical marijuana products available to a small group of patients. 

5. Sweden

We suspect you’re quite surprised to see Sweden on this list. We are too. The country has some pretty lenient laws across the board. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression are all important and well-protected cornerstones of society. 

However, Sweden has a zero-tolerance policy towards the possession, use, sale, and distribution of all illicit drugs (cannabis included). The national police enforce this with very little flexibility, whereby stop and searches (under a “disturb and annoy” policy) are routinely carried out if police officers suspect drug possession, use, or distribution.  

Under the Swedish Penal Code, narcotic offenses are placed into three categories: minor, ordinary, and serious. 

A minor cannabis offense, for example, is determined by quantity (up to 50 grams) and intent (personal use, sell, supply). Personal use of under 50 grams can result in a fine or up to six months in prison. The fine is based on the offender’s income. 

An ordinary or serious cannabis offense is possession of 51g to 2kg and more than 2kg, respectively. An ordinary drug offense can see you in jail for up to three years, while a serious drug offense is punishable by up to 10 years in prison

Selling, distributing, smuggling, or trafficking? You’re in a lot of shit. Trafficking generally leads to life imprisonment.

6. Slovakia

Last but certainly not least, Slovakia. The EU country many people fear when talking about drug policy. Cannabis laws in the former Eastern Bloc country are exceptionally rigid. 

Under the Slovak Republic’s Criminal Code, which was amended in 2005 and came into force at the beginning of 2006, all drugs are prohibited equally. The law doesn’t differentiate between, say, cannabis and heroin. If you’re caught with three times one single dose of any drug, you can face up to three years in prison. Larger amounts (up to ten times one single dose) can result in a five-year prison sentence.  

Other punishments for personal possession and use of illicit drugs include monitored home imprisonment (for up to one year) or 40-300 hours of community service. 

Punishments for cannabis smuggling and trafficking are more severe. If caught, you can be thrown in jail for life depending on the quantity.

Cannabis Laws in the Middle East

The majority of Middle Eastern and surrounding countries do not view drugs favorably — even cannabis. Many impose long prison sentences for possession, use, and distribution. The death penalty is also served to those who dare traffick or smuggle marijuana (or any other drug).

7. Saudi Arabia

Listen up, guys. If you don’t take heed of any of the advice here today, take note of this. Saudi Arabia won’t be lenient on you for breaking its strict laws on cannabis. The country is well-recognized as one of the strictest countries when it comes to drug laws and regulations

The Saudi government follows Sharia law and bases its drug policy accordingly. Drug offenders are, therefore, often met with long prison sentences or execution by firing squad or beheading. 

In a report by Harm Reduction International, there were “30 confirmed executions for drug offenses in 2020, down from 116 in 2019. All of the executions took place in 3 countries (China, Iran and Saudi Arabia)”. 

Of course, long prison sentences and executions are reserved for serious drug traffickers, smugglers, manufacturers, and distributors. For personal use and possession, expect to be put in prison for anywhere between six months to one year (quantity dependent). Dealers are dealt with more severely. If caught dealing, a two to 10-year prison sentence is frequently handed out.

8. United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The UAE is home to Dubai, the Middle Eastern adult playground for businessmen, wealthy celebrities, and jet setters looking to enjoy Arabic culture. Its glitz and glamor attract people from all over the world, promising fun, relaxation, and adventure. 

All countries belonging to the UAE are known for strict cannabis laws. If caught in possession of cannabis (even in small amounts), you can face a mandatory four-year jail sentence

The sale and distribution of cannabis are even worse. You can be thrown in jail for anywhere between 10-15 years. In rare cases, the smuggling and trafficking of cannabis into the UAE can lead to the death penalty. 

Don’t believe everything you hear about the UAE being more lenient on drugs than its Saudi neighbor. Just this year, an American citizen was hospitalized in Dubai with pancreatitis and got busted for having THC in his system from marijuana he consumed in the US. He was detained for three days and, if charged, could face up to three years in prison.

9. Turkey

Although Turkey has a strong alliance with the EU, as well as sharing its border with Greece and Georgia, drug laws are not in any way similar. Turkey is strict when it comes to all illicit drugs, including cannabis and other plant-based substances. 

Under Turkey’s rigid Penal Code, almost all drugs (plant-based or otherwise) are strictly prohibited. Willful personal possession and use of cannabis, for example, is punishable by up to five years in prison (minimum of two years). Trafficking and smuggling of cannabis or any other prohibited narcotic? Expect to see inside a jail cell for anywhere between 10-15 years

Cannabis Laws in South America and Central America

Many countries in South America and Central America are forward-thinking with their cannabis laws. A large portion (e.g. México, Uruguay, Argentina, etc) of these countries have either decriminalized personal use and possession or legalized it recreationally and medicinally. 

However, there are two countries, in particular, you’ll want to avoid if you’re a keen toker. 

10. El Salvador

Recreational and medical cannabis is totally illegal in El Salvador. Many believe recreational legality will not change at any point in the near or distant future, but medical cannabis prohibition could be lifted in the next coming years.

Currently, sale, distribution, and cultivation can result in some serious legal consequences — anywhere between 10-15 years in prison. Simple cannabis possession and use laws have relaxed somewhat over the past decade or two but jail times of anywhere up to six years are handed out depending on quantity. Two grams could see you in jail for 1-2 years, while more than two grams may result in three to six years in prison

Moral of the story: Avoid cannabis in El Salvador.

11. Venezuela 

Venezuelan cannabis laws are certainly not as strict as El Salvador. Both medical and recreational cannabis is illegal but possession and use of smaller quantities (less than 20 grams of natural cannabis and 5 grams of synthetic marijuana) are decriminalized. Anything over this can lead to two or three years in prison — trafficking and smuggling results in a far lengthier time in prison. 

Two or three years for possession and use doesn’t sound too bad, right? Wrong. Venezuelan jails are notoriously evil and run primarily by rival gangs. Prisoners are known to carry firearms and jail wardens care very little for it. A year or two jail stint will feel like a never-ending nightmare.

Cannabis Laws in Southeast Asia

To be honest, you could almost put every Southeast Asian country into this section. Nearly every one of them has some of the strictest cannabis use, possession, and distribution laws in the world. We do not recommend going anywhere near illicit drugs here (cannabis or otherwise). Many still view cannabis use and possession as punishable by life imprisonment or death. 

12. Singapore

Singapore has some of the harshest cannabis laws in the world. Getting caught with any amount and you’re up shit creek without a paddle. We implore you not to mess with drugs at any point while living or visiting the country. It’s not worth it. 

Under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, cannabis is categorized as a Schedule I Class A controlled drug, positioned alongside amphetamines, cocaine, ketamine, MDMA, and fentanyl. 

As outlined in Section 17 of the Act, possession of small amounts of cannabis (2 grams or less) is a serious offense in the eyes of Singaporean law. Punishments can range from an SG$20,000 (USD$15,000) fine to 8-10 years in prison

Carrying more than 2 grams of cannabis? You’ve instantly presumed a drug trafficker, which carries lengthy prison sentences (10-25 years). Thinking about trafficking or smuggling 500 grams of weed into Singapore? You might as well kiss your freedom (and potentially your life) goodbye. The country punishes drug traffickers and smugglers with life imprisonment or the death penalty.

13. Malaysia

Malaysia also has some of the harshest cannabis laws in the world. It’s classified as a highly dangerous drug capable of causing addiction with absolutely no medical benefit.

As outlined in Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, possession of 20-50 grams of cannabis can land you in prison for no less than two years but not exceeding five years. Your prison sentence may also be accompanied by no less than three lashes but no more than nine. Possession of 50-200 grams of cannabis will result in a much harsher sentence (imprisonment of no less than five years).

Carrying smaller amounts e.g. five grams or less? You may get away with an on-the-spot-fine with a warning if you’re lucky or a foreign tourist. If you’re stupid enough to supply cannabis to others (usually in substantial amounts), expect to be smacked in the face with a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Life imprisonment or the death penalty for traffickers, importers, exporters. 

However, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel for cannabis in Malaysia.

In 2018, a man was sentenced to death for possessing and distributing medical marijuana to seriously ill people. The sentencing caught widespread public disapproval, forcing government officials to not only reconsider the sentencing but also Malaysia’s cannabis laws. Right now, a bill has been drafted to potentially decriminalize cannabis, which will make the country the first in Asia to decriminalize an illicit drug.

14. Indonesia

Indonesia’s cannabis laws aren’t quite as strict as Singapore or Malaysia but that doesn’t mean it’s accepted either. The Indonesian government doesn’t tolerate drug use in the slightest. 

Numerous foreigners have been made examples out of, especially traffickers and importers. Two Australians were executed for smuggling drugs into the country in 2015. A French smuggler was sentenced to death in 2019 but had it reduced to 19 years in prison following a lengthy court battle

Under Indonesian law, the use of cannabis is punishable by up to a minimum of four years, while possession of higher quantities can be punishable by up to 14 years in prison, alongside an eight billion rupiah (approx. USD$550,000) fine.  

Cannabis and hemp derivatives and compounds (CBD, CBG, etc) are also illegal and you can face the very same punishments as using or possessing, say, cannabis flower.

15. Philippines

Cannabis law is very strict in the Philippines. All cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis tinctures are placed under Schedule I of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act 2002, which coincides with the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. 

Use and possession of 500 grams of cannabis or 10 grams of resin are punishable by up to life in prison and a substantial ₱10 million (approx. USD$210,000) fine

The Philippines also has a very dark and bloody history with drugs (not just cannabis). President Roderigo Duerte, the Philippines’ tyrannical and authoritarian head of state, urged his own people to kill drug offenders, as well as issuing “shoot-to-kill” orders to his police and security personnel. Monetary rewards were also offered. This, right here, shows the country’s stance on drugs. 

However, cannabis for medicinal use might be legalized following the development of the “Philippine Compassionate Care Act”, which is now under referendum as of 2020.

16. Brunei 

Brunei is equally as tough with cannabis as the Philippines and Indonesia. The country’s strict Sharia law not only strictly prohibits cannabis and other illicit drugs but also the sale, possession, and use of alcohol, particularly among local Muslims. 

Under Brunei’s Misuse of Drugs Act, possession and use of cannabis are highly illegal. Possession of fewer than 500 grams of cannabis is punishable by up to 20 years in prison

However, if you’re carrying only 15 grams, you’re still presumed to be a drug trafficker. Anywhere between 400-600 grams will result in up to 30 years in prison (20 years minimum). Above 600 grams? The death penalty

Surprisingly, there are drug rehabilitation centers offered to drug abusers, prioritizing emotional, physical, and religious support, whilst providing post-rehab integration back into society. 

United States and Inhabited Territories 

Despite the United States having some of the world’s most liberal cannabis regulations and laws across many of its states, there are other regions not quite so marijuana-friendly. In some states, not even hemp-derived CBD is allowed to be sold or used recreationally. In other states, medical marijuana is allowed but recreational adult use is still very much prohibited. 

If caught with CBD or marijuana in these states, the punishments are less severe than, say, all Southeast Asian countries, but fines and jail time can still occur. 

17. Alabama

Alabama has arguably the strictest cannabis laws in the United States. You should exercise caution if visiting the state, especially if you enjoy the benefits of higher-THC marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD is legal. 

Simple use and possession of any amount are classed as a misdemeanor and can land you up to one year in jail and/or a $6,000 fine. The same punishment occurs for possession and use of paraphernalia. Sale, trafficking, and cultivation are punished heavily. Trafficking 100 lbs to under 500 lbs, for example, will result in a minimum of five years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. 

As of March 2021, an Alabama Senate committee approved a bill to decriminalize possession of fewer than two ounces of cannabis, which would result in a $250 fine for the first offense and $500 for the second. The bill will now move to the full Senate to be debated. 

18. Iowa

Iowa is less strict than Alabama when it comes to cannabis, be it recreational or medicinal. We still recommend not consuming it in the state to avoid fines and/or jail time. Possession and use of any amount (first offense) is a misdemeanor, resulting in a jail sentence and/or $1,000 fine. The second and third offenses are also misdemeanors and could see you go to jail for 1 and 2 years, respectively. 

Like Alabama, sale, trafficking, and cultivation have more serious consequences. Cultivation of 50 kg or less, for instance, is punishable by a minimum of five years in prison and/or a $7,500 fine. 

19. American Samoa

American Samoa is the only US-owned inhabited island prohibiting all forms of cannabis (medical and recreational), though it’s still widely available and used among its 55,000 strong population. 

The laws surrounding first-time cannabis offenses are very strict. If caught with cannabis, you instantly face five years in prison with no chance of parole or probation. You might also be hit with a $5,000 fine as well. Hemp-derived CBD products are also illegal. 

Other Notable Regions

20. China

Under the Anti-Drug Law of the People’s Republic of China, marijuana is very illegal and strictly prohibited in pretty much all forms in China. Hemp, however, is legal but only in certain provinces, including Yunnan Province and Heilongjiang Province. CBD, as well as other cannabis plant compounds, are not approved for use and remain strictly regulated, though Chinese companies do manufacture and export CBD products to other countries. 

In terms of punishments for cannabis use and possession? Small amounts usually result in an equally small fine or up to 15 days in a detention center. If you’re caught with five kilos or more, you could face the death penalty. 

21. Russia

Russia, the land of Vladimir Putin and vodka, made it very much known cannabis was not allowed within its borders prior to 2004 — one single solitary joint was enough to be classified a criminal offense. 

After 2006,  the Russian Criminal Code was amended, statinbg possession of up to six grams is the equivalent of a misdemeanor, which can land you in jail for up to 15 days. Anything above this and you’re in the shit. The Russians can either shove you in prison for three years or put you into a labor camp for two years.

Unfortunately, law enforcement corruption is rife across Russia. According to an article published by The Moscow Times, “undercover” police officers pretending to be humans on Tinder matched with potential dates, offering them weed and a good time. Once a meetup was secured, the potential dates would be confronted by the police officers, forcing them to pay a bribe or face jail time. 

We recommend staying away from weed in Russia. 

22. Japan

Japan might have some pretty relaxed laws on some things but drugs ain’t one of them. Cannabis was totally outlawed in the late-1940s and continues to be prohibited in 2023. 

Under Japan’s Cannabis Control Act, possession of marijuana can result in a 5-7 year jail sentence, along with a fine of up to $20,000. If busted for growing, smuggling, or distributing marijuana, you could face 10-15 years imprisonment. 

Hemp and hemp-derived CBD, however, was legalized in 2016 and is widely available across the country.