Why Indonesia should liberalize its drug laws

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Indonesia is probably the country with the strictest anti-drug laws in the world.

In Indonesia, you don't have to be caught with any drugs to face a jail sentence of several years (which is almost a death sentence, as any person imprisoned for a considerable length of time will likely contract malaria, or HIV as a consequence of prison rape, or face other severe health problems).

In Indonesia, all the authorities need to file charges against you, is proof that you have been using drugs.

Such proof is easy to come by. The Indonesian police (possibly because of grants from the American DEA or comparable Australian law enforcement agencies) is well equipped with on the spot laboratories for urine tests through which it is easily determined whether you have been taking drugs in the past few days.

They also can perform hair analyses to determine whether you have been taking drugs the past few months or years.

The Indonesian police uses this equipment to randomly test locals and foreigners. In Indonesia, one does not have to be an individual suspect of drug use for being forced by the Indonesian police to undergo drug tests.

The police regularly raid entertainment venues and block all doors, and the only way out is via the mobile drug lab of the police. Locals are so afraid of these raids that most discos throughout Indonesia have closed in 2005 for a lack of visitors.

When police raided the Iguana disco in Medan in summer 2005, many local youths jumped through the disco's glass walls, even though the Iguana was located on an upper floor in a department store. There were several deaths and dozens of injured.

There was no public criticism of the police at all. In Indonesia, the police is never criticized for being too harsh, only for being too lenient with criminals. Such criticism of too much leniency obviously plays into the hands of the policy, as they can adopt ever more brutal measures, under the pretext of the public allegedly demanding this.

In no year for decades has the Indonesian prison population swelled as drastically as in 2005, and the strict implementation of anti-drug laws was a major reason for this.

It is obvious that US pressure has been a driving force in the adoption of stricter drug laws throughout Asia, just as it has been in South America.

They have tried a US-mandated strict implementation of laws against drug use in South America. This has lead to a total overcrowding of prisons, resulting in appalling conditions.

In Brazil, they have taken the logical step: decriminalizing drug use. Drug use has also been decriminalized for a number of years in most countries of Europe which the US cannot blackmail as blatantly as countries in Asia.

Drug use anyway doesn't fit the standard definition of a crime. Crime per se is something that victimizes other people.

Drug users only victimize themselves. But so do people who are overweight and continue eating too many calories per day. We can offer both groups of people good advice, but to go beyond that is not appropriate for a human society that cherishes personal freedom.

There are other reasons as well why Indonesia should liberalize its drug laws. Because, to have such strict anti-drug laws, and to implement them so harshly, is hurting Indonesia's attractiveness, both for foreign tourists and residents, and in the eyes of rich Indonesians.

Fact is, people don't want to visit police states, and they do not want to live in police states. Fact is also that a large number of people, non-Indonesians and Indonesians, like to use drugs.

For them, the Indonesian message is clear. It's not a message of stopping to take drugs. It's a message of going somewhere else. In most countries of the developed world, with the exception of the US and Australia, you can openly smoke a joint in front of a police precinct, and nothing will happen. In many European countries, rave parties are publicly announced, and it is understood that everybody who is participating is using ecstasy.

Globalization brings it with it, that in the future, those countries are most likely to prosper which a large number of people with money will find most attractive. And on charts that compare the quality of life ratings of many countries, Indonesia could do with gaining some points.

For example by not messing with people who have personal drug use habits.

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