From time to time, I receive an email from a reader asking me if it is safe to use drugs in Jakarta. The obvious reply is that it is extremely dangerous, as even carrying a small joint might land you in jail. 

But Indonesia is much more complicated than that, hence the need for a longer article to explain you the subtleties of drug use in the country.

Why foreigners should be extra careful when using drugs in Indonesia
From my personal perspective, the law in Indonesia only exists to give a pretext to powerful people to extort some money or benefits. Most often, it is used when the authorities want to target someone in particular, with some categories that are more at risks than others. The most vulnerable are poor people, ethnic and religious minorities, foreigners, or anyone without a network among government officials.

The laws of Indonesia, including drug laws, will normally apply to them with greater severity, meaning they will either receive harsher sentences or pay a bigger bribe.

Foreigners are particularly at risk for several reasons. They are considered rich (therefore prime targets), they don't know anything about the legal system and they rarely possess powerful connections.

More importantly, there is a creeping racism/xenophobia among a large portion of the Indonesian population. From an early age, they are taught a one-sided story about the morally-corrupt West, whose influence must be limited. Alcohol, homosexuality, crime, rape, communism, atheism, porn, and of course drugs are all considered imported vices. As a foreigner, if you get caught using, or worse selling drugs, you are guaranteed to make national headlines and become a matter of national security. Once your name appears in the media, it becomes almost impossible to buy your way out.

The statistics speak for themselves: In 2015-2016, among 18 persons executed for drug offenses, only 3 were Indonesian. This is in spite the fact that there are over 125,000 Indonesians in prison for drug offenses (70% of a total prison population of 180,000 inmates) for less than 100 foreigners.

Are some drugs more safe than others? Is there a risk if I have a very small quantity?
Indonesians do not see any differences between soft and hard drugs. They have no idea what drugs are, how they work, which ones are lethal and which ones are addictive. All they know is that it is a foreign-imported problem and that it is killing the youth of the country.

Judges will send heroin junkies to jail and people who take barely-addictive ecstasy and marijuana to rehabilitation center, depending on mysterious factors.

Even Budi Waseso, the head of the BNN (the Indonesian drug enforcement agency) once said that he saved 21 million lives by seizing a 2-ton shipment of marijuana, obviously not knowing that it is not a lethal drug. For this reason, don't assume that you are taking less risks by smoking pot instead of crack.

The quantity in your possession does not really matter as well: Marlon Eduardo Bezrutchaka was arrested with 0.13 grams of hashish and 0.14 grams of marijuana in 2014 and it made national news. A year after, Nicholas James Langan was sentenced to 1 year in jail for possessing 0.9 grams of marijuana. An American, Scott Wikoff O'Dowd was also sent to jail for 8 months for having 3 grams on his suitcase. There were several similar cases this year as well.

You won't be executed if you have small quantities, but you are still likely to go to jail.

Why people still do drugs despite the risks?
In spite of the risks, you would be surprised to find out that drugs are very easy to buy in Indonesia. If you are in Bali, it is offered on the street by dealers who are just a few meters away from policemen. Drugs are also very common in places like Akasaka or Deejay Café. In Jakarta, some nightclubs are notoriously filled with ecstasy and shabu-shabu (crystal meth). In Mille's, Golden Crown, Exotis, Illigals, Puja Sera or Sydney 2000, you can buy it easily by simply asking a waiter or the security. It was true when I first arrived in the city in 2004, and it is still true until today.

The police conducts raids from time to time, including urine tests, but the owners are tipped off beforehand so barely anybody is caught red-handed. If you look at who owns North Jakarta nightlife, you will understand why.

For those reasons, some Indonesians and expats may tell you that it is relatively safe to buy and use drugs within those clubs. They will recommend you to consume on the spot and never carry anything on your body. If you get caught, they will say that the key is to avoid escalation: While the policeman who arrested you might settle for a reasonable bribe, everything becomes more complicated once his boss is involved, and then the boss of his boss, and then the media.

Some people don't care about the risks because they benefit from connections and/or have enough money to pay their way out of jail.

It is rather common to read about police officers, prison guards or military personnel getting caught, at least once or twice a month. In South Sulawesi, the police itself considers that the involvement of its personnel in drug abuse is "alarming". Yet you rarely see those arrested in jails, and even less on the death row. The Head of the Jakarta Police for Drugs only recommends 1 month of counseling for such officers.

Similarly, there are many cases of celebrities, politicians or VIPs who manage to receive preferential treatment. A recent case is Ivan Haz, a politician from the Islamist party PPP and the son of ex-Vice President Hamzah Haz. He is accused of both abusing is maid and attending a drug party. His trial was delayed several times because he missed police questioning twice, saying he had work to do. I get the feeling he won't spend a lot of time in prison.

You can get more names of people who got away with drugs in my article 13 Illogical Facts About Drugs in Indonesia (check number 9).

My personal advice would be to forget about drugs and stick to alcohol when you are partying in Indonesia. Even though your chances of getting caught are thin, as a foreigner you are a prized target for the police and therefore you are more at risk.

Denunciation by neighbors are common, as well as traps set up by policemen themselves. Never buy from the street or from people you don't know well. Again, if you get caught, you must make a deal with the person who arrests you as soon as possible: Don't let others be involved.

The price for recreational drugs in Indonesia is high. For instance, you can expect to pay up to US$30 for just one ecstasy pill. Be aware that the quality is often poor. The dealers don't care if they sell you something poisonous as long as they get your money.

3 comments to '' How Dangerous Is It to Use Drugs in Indonesia? "

  1. Great article. Thank you. So true.
    Especially the last sentence. I think the quality of drugs in Indonesia is really, really low. So i do not only put myself in risk in terms of getting in jail etc but also my health in terms of maybe getting something really harmful (not thak mdma is not harmful at all, but if its pure you know the risk and can calculate with it...)

  2. how risky is it to buy mushrooms in bali, there are even facebook pages that offer delivery lol

    have any recommendations on where to find them with lower risk?

  3. Very smart to name all the great party places by name here...why don't you call your article "How I am going to contribute ruining all the fun in the few places left in Jakarta"....jerk