Bali officials crack down on drug tourism


As Indonesia’s most popular vacation destination, the island of Bali expects to welcome as many as 10 million tourists this year. Being surrounded by crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, and cheap Nepalese hash may sound like paradise…oh, ok, it is paradise.
But if you plan to be among those planning a trip to Bali in 2014, you should beware that the National Narcotics Agency Bali (BNN) – sort of Indonesia’s version of the DEA – has vowed to crack down on narcotics tourism in what they say has already been a busy year of drug busts.

Much like in the U.S., Indonesia ranks various types of drugs into “Groups” based on the balance of their perceived medicinal value versus their perceived threat of addiction or harm to the user.
Also much like the Schedules of the Controlled Substances Act in America, any Group that lists marijuana alongside heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and meth is full of shit.
Despite horrific bombings by Islamic terrorists in Bali in 2002 and 2005, border security is reported to still be shockingly sparse. The ever-increasing number of tourists flooding onto the island only spread that security more thin, but if they do catch you smuggling, buying, or even openly smoking on ganja in Bali, good luck.
If Indonesian customs officials catch you trying to import any weed, you’re screwed. You will receive anywhere from four to twenty years in a foreign jail cell.
48 year old Robert McJannett was flying into Bali from his home country of Australia in December of 2009 when, upon arrival, officials discovered less than two grams of herb in his luggage. So, for “importing” 1.7 grams of bud into Bali, he faced a 15 year sentence. On top of that, the prosecution tried to add on possession charges carrying another 4-12 years. Fortunately for McJannett, cooler heads prevailed, and when found guilty, he “only” had to serve seven months at Bali’s Kerobokan Prison.
Another Aussie, Schapelle Corby, was not so lucky. In 2005, authorities claim to have found 4.20 kilos of pot lazily stuffed into a boogie board bag belonging to Corby when they searched her luggage upon her arrival to Bali. The weed was completely undisguised, in a clear bag, immediately visible when the bag was unzipped.
To this day, Corby swears the weed was planted on her, and that she would never be so stupid to smuggle such a large amount in plain view. The bag of weed was never fingerprinted, because authorities admitted that too many hands touched it at the airport. Yet, she was still slapped with a 20 year sentence.
Maybe she was lucky, though, since Indonesian law allowed for the death penalty in a case like hers, and the prosecution pushed hard for it. They would have a 27 year old tourist put before a firing squad over a disputed bag of cannabis. So consider that if you plan to visit this year.
Eventually, the threat of being riddled with bullets was dropped, and Corby got nailed with the 20 year sentence. She appealed, but the sentence was confirmed in 2010. In a last ditch effort, she begged the Indonesian president for clemency, and in 2012, she was granted a reduction to her sentence.
She was released earlier this year, on February 10th, after serving nine long years behind bars. Still on parole, however, she cannot leave the country until July of 2017.
If you plan to just buy some when you arrive, even that can be dangerous. In regions like Kuta, street dealers are said to whisper names and prices of various drugs to anyone passing by.
In 2011 an unnamed 14-year-old Australian boy was approached by such a person and offered a quarter ounce of herb for $25. He followed the man into a massage parlor and traded cash for the bud and made his way back out to the street.
He was immediately apprehended by local police, who just so happened to guess that he would have some weed on him. It turns out he got the ol’ tourist deal, the 6.7 gram “quarter ounce”, but it was still enough that he faced a six year prison term. The judge in the case eventually dropped the sentence to two months, but holy shit, two months in an Indonesian prison at the age of 14 is a pretty harsh life lesson.
Bali’s local government acknowledges that the tourism dollar drives their economy, and that the increased numbers inherently bring increased smuggling efforts.
Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya is the head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Tourism Industry Association. He told the Jakarta Post, “Here [in Bali], anyone can arrive as long as they pay a visa on arrival fee. Some people come here to run illegal business, including drug trafficking.”
As the prime holiday season rolls around in Bali, nobody should pass up an opportunity for some rest and relaxation there. Just forget about bringing your own weed, unless you are prepared for an extended stay.