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What Happens When You’re Caught Toking Abroad

Know the trouble that you could get in!

by Claire Downs

If you’re fortunate enough to reside in one of the several U.S. states that legalized medical or recreational marijuana for 2017, you’re probably looking forward to a less-stigmatized, easier toking culture. “Greener pastures,” if you will. Though the War on Drugs still rages across much of the nation, with incarceration at an all-time high, it’s safe to say that America is progressing in the right direction when it comes to weed. (At least, we hope it continues in that direction.)

The rest of the world, on the other hand, has some catching up to do. Some nations still have extreme fines, jail time, time without counsel, and even death penalties, just for possessing and smoking la ganja. And, we’re not talking about some extreme countries where you wouldn’t dare toke in the bazaar, much less hold hands in public. Some of the most Westernized, popular locales for chilling TF out are decidedly un-chill when it comes to the most famous herbal drug in the world.

So, before you spend your next vacation in your own personal version of Locked Up Abroad, here is what’s at stake if you are caught with that sticky international icky.


If you’ve somehow planned a walkabout in the bush as your vacation, you’re in luck. Weed has been largely decriminalized out there! Everywhere else, like the Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales states, view possession as an illegal offense. Luckily, if you’re nice to your arresting officer, should you get caught, you’ll likely only walk away with a warning or a date to attend an educational session. G’day!


If you want to live out Sticky Icky Cristina Barcelona, you’ll have some luck with Spain’s weed laws. While ganja is illegal there, authorities are not allowed to search your house for drugs specifically. Thanks to this loophole, many very cool-sounding cannabis clubs have sprung up in cities. But, if you are caught toking in a public place expect a fine of over €300.


Don’t be like Ryan Lochte! Be cool in Rio! Possessing weed is illegal in Brazil, as is anything that “comes from weed,” like hemp oil. CBD is one exception, but it’s exclusively allowed for those with MMJ cards...issued in Brazil. “Personal amounts,” though not exactly specified, are semi-legal, as long as you’re OK with receiving a warning should you be caught. The warning could come in the form of a court hearing and a mandatory community service sentence. According to one blogger, getting arrested for possession is, “nothing a few American dollars can’t fix!” We wouldn’t rely on that blogger, though. He sounds stoned.


Earlier this year, MERRY JANE writer Lauren Maul took us on her delightful tour of “Higherland,” where she was lucky enough to vape with a fellow tourist shortly after stepping foot on the Emerald Isle. She may be onto something, because this year, talks of decriminalizing cannabis and creating medical usage laws have swept the nation’s political conversation. But as of right now, though, weed is considered a “controlled substance,” so if you’re caught smoking, you will be subjected to a small fine. Unfortunately, that “small” fine is about $1,300.


Thailand is a gorgeous place that is as magical as the Thai word for weed, “kancha.” But if you’re caught with up to 10kg of kancha, you could serve a max sentence of five years in prison or the generous offer to pay off the police. If arrested formally, a minimum fine of about $155 could be imposed, only after several days behind bars. Even if you’re not caught in the act, if the smell is around, you could be subjected to compulsory drug testing on the spot.


A 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Mexico last year declared smoking and growing pot to be a “human right,” but the measure was deemed largely symbolic. Certain quantities of cannabis are legal to possess (under 5 grams), but if you are caught as a foreigner, expect to be harassed and rousted by the authorities. Anecdotal stories on travel forums often speak of being fined small “fees” by the police, who can pose as dealers at popular resort locations. Officially, if you are caught with weed right now, you risk a night in jail, or worse, being tried as a “small-time trafficker,” even if there is no evidence you were going to sell your stash.


Just because Napoleon Bonaparte and his troops brought hashish to France, it doesn’t mean that you can too. As of 2013, medical use has been approved by an amendment to the public health code, but little has been done to implement this approval. Possession, cultivation, and sale is completely illegal, with the maximum sentence being a year in prison or a fine of €3,750 (approximately $3,943). So, unless you have a burning desire for a very expensive “total immersion” French language program, you should probably just enjoy staring at the lights of the Eiffel Tower sober.


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Claire Downs is a writer and comedian based out of Los Angeles. She's written for Nickelodeon, VH1, Funny or Die, and Hello Giggles. You can follow her on Twitter @clairecdowns. She prefers Indica to Sativa, in case you're wondering.



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