Four British nationals have been sentenced to death in Indonesia for drug trafficking. The four are accused of trying to smuggle 11lb of cocaine from Thailand to Indonesia. These British nationals are far from the only foreigners sentenced to death for drug charges in Indonesia, as of September 2011 foreigners made up four fifths of those sentenced to death for drug offenses. Such draconian punishments were intended to reduce drug use in Indonesia, where use of hard drugs has either increased or remained the same. While in some countries harsh drug laws do reduce drug use, they are hardly societies worthy of admiration.
APAIC reviewed drug use in Indonesia and found the following; between 2006 and 2010 the use of meth, barbiturates, heroin, and cannabis resin increased, while the use of ecstasy and cocaine remained about the same. APAIC also found that domestic production of meth and ecstasy is on the rise. Evidently the death penalty and decades long prison sentences are not deterring drug users or drug dealers.
While Indonesia’s punishments are harsh, they are not the worst. Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act requires that anyone caught with more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine, 250 grams of meth, or 500 grams of cannabis receive the death penalty. Singapore has executed hundreds of people under these laws, including many foreign nationals. In contrast to Indonesia, Singapore has actually seen a decrease in drug use. Newt Gingrich is on record saying that he supports a Singapore-style solution to America’s drug problems, a commitment embodied by a bill he introduced in 1996 requiring that drug smugglers received the death penalty. One of Singapore’s former high commissioners to the Court of St. James’s defended his country’s policy in a guest post for The Guardian, arguing that the policy has “saved thousands from addiction”.
Indonesia and Singapore show us that draconian drug laws provide no guarantee that drug use will decrease. While Gingrich might sing the praises of a society where drug offenders receive the death penalty, homosexuals are banned from entry, and chewing gum, oral sex, porn, and bungee jumping are illegal, he is thankfully in a minority. If Gingrich and other prohibitionists would like to see sensible drug policy in practice Portugal might be a better place to look than the Pacific rim. Believe it or not, there are policies that deal with drug users effectively that do not involve killing or imprisoning even more of them.