Drug Laws in Vietnam
Let’s get high on information!
After I saw this painting in a Bui Vien bar (Cyclo?), I realized that drug laws in Vietnam might be an area of interest for some people coming to visit. After all, it’s not like drugs don’t exist here – just like gay people, Visa, and Coke-Cola, they’re everywhere you want to be. Here’s the information I’ve collected on this topic – I hope it’s useful… or at least interesting!I would guess that roughly half to two-thirds of the foreigners I know in Vietnam smoke marijuana at least occasionally, and a fair amount of younger Vietnamese as well. The truth is that drugs are easy to procure here in Saigon… but that doesn’t mean they’re legal. Far from it, in fact. They are super, duper illegal, and trafficking will net you the death penalty (so… please don’t do that).Current friends who smoke up tend to do so in their own homes and limit their purchases to marijuana. The people I knew that did harder things, like ecstasy or MDMA or cocaine or what-have-you, have all moved away back to their godless, liberal Western countries, so more power to them and I hope they’re staying alive and healthy. I’ve never heard anything about an acquaintance getting caught for drugs, but maybe that was the point (mwahahaha). So, for the reason that I only have sources about marijuana, I’ll focus exclusively on weed in HCMC.Let me be clear:

If you’re into heroin or opium, this is not the article or nation for you. You are playing a very dangerous game bringing an appetite for these drugs into the country, and ANYONE carrying even a small amount of heroin is given the death sentence. So, again, please reconsider your life choices if this is your intention, and seek help.

Also, I’m not advocating anyone smoke marijuana. Let’s be very upfront about that. It’s probably a terrible idea, regardless of how ‘easy’ or ‘repercussion-free’ it might seem. There’s always that first person that gets screwed, and they thought they could get away with it, too. And, whatever you do, do NOT take your stash or anyone else’s across borders! Do not be a stupid drug user, and you’ll have many lovely years of getting high in low-risk settings ahead of you.

Click through for rumor, vague laws, innuendo, hearsay, bribes, and the death penalty – everything I’ve been able to find about drugs in Vietnam!

As I’m sure you’re aware, Vietnam is a Socialist nation, and SE Asia has the strictest drug punishments in the world, thanks to the flood of heroin and opium originating in the nearby Golden Triangle (a huge source of poppies). Getting lost in a SE Asian drug nightmare is, frankly, a scary f*cking idea – just the thought of the mind-melting bureaucracy involved (not to mention the fact of, you know, incarceration and/or execution) should drive you to be extra careful, if this is how you choose to get your kicks.

Fortunately for all these people loving their illegal kicks, Vietnam is currently undergoing a huge tourist boom, and tourists like getting high on marijuana.

Vietnam strictly enforces its drug laws… mostly. As prescribed by the Vietnamese Criminal Code, possession of heroin in quantities larger than 1.3 pounds gets you a mandatory death sentence. In 2007, 85 people were executed for drug related offenses.

Relevant clauses from the Criminal Code:

– Article 185a, Clause 2 (growing opium poppy or other plants containing narcotics); Article 185b (illegally manufacturing narcotics); Article 185c (illegally storing narcotics); Article 185d (illegally transporting narcotics); Article 185e (illegally buying and selling narcotics);

It is a fact that Vietnam’s biggest and most threatening drug problem stems from abuse and trafficking of opium and heroin, and that these areas, within local Vietnamese society, are where police are primarily focusing their efforts.

Just like in any up and coming neighborhood, the first ones in the door are the young guns – backpackers, in this case, and we all know how much backpackers love to do whatever they want, wherever they go. To encourage the tourist industry, police are currently not interested in tourists using weed, even fairly openly, i.e. on the street or at a bar. Police are mostly content to negotiate a small bribe in return for leaving you and your joint alone, if they bother you at all. From what I’ve seen, read, and heard, you would have to be outrageously out of line in order to attract attention, or caught up in some other, more serious matter of state which would definitely be compounded by the compound you’re high on.Frankly, dealers sell with such impunity, and in such obvious and consistent locations, that it’s impossible to believe the police are ignorant of this business. In fact, I’m estimating the possibility of police ignorance somewhere around 0%. There is NO WAY they’re unaware, and they are DEFINITELY making money off these transactions at some point in the process. Vietnamese Styyyyyle!So if it’s really that easy to get away with recreational smoking, how do people with few or no local connections find a hook-up?
As a foreigner, marijuana will make its way to you as a river flows to the sea. Trust is often an added advantage in securing a dealer or runner – this aspect is the same as any Vietnamese social relationship. But, really, just being in the same bar for a couple hours or a few days in a row is generally enough… hustlers gonna hustle, and pushers have product to push, and you look foreign and therefore wealthy and also depraved. If you actually ARE that depraved and can’t wait, just ask someone selling something. Chances are they can help you. It’s ubiquitous, but not necessarily always visible.

It is generally offered in either pre-rolled joint form or small plastic baggies. Prices vary, but a small baggie is about 5-10 USD, and pre-rolled joints are a little more expensive. Papers for rolling are available from most cigarette vendors, especially around Bui Vien, and come in two sizes – short or long. Make your own filter, as pre-made filters are difficult to find. I have not heard anything about marijuana being available in higher quantities, but I suppose it probably is somewhere – someone’s buying it wholesale, after all, at some point in the supply chain. Quality seems to be almost universally derided.

Sidenote: Friends have noted that there’s a mild crackdown on social vices a few times a year, resulting in a brief product drought, but I’m not familiar with either the timing or duration of these crackdowns, and the underground marijuana trade generally seems to waste no time getting back into the swing of things, as I don’t hear these complaints for long (and sooner or later, some Vietnamese on the street will just randomly ask you if you want marijuana or cocaine, and everything’s apparently back to normal).

In the end, Vietnam laws obviously apply to all visitors to Vietnam, whether you’re a VN citizen or not, and they do not generally go easy on those they choose to convict (mostly traffickers, but you never know!). If it’s a small infraction, expect to serve time and be deported, although it is entirely possible that you may be executed as a warning to others, as this is technically the lawful punishment for being caught with narcotics of any kind.So, yeah. Don’t be stupid. We like you the way you are – psychologically well and not on any blacklists or secret gulags. And also alive.Bottom Line:

  • Don’t be stupid (THIS I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH)
  • Don’t be overt
  • Get the local lay of the land from an in-country expat
  • Be respectful
  • Just pay the bribe, if such a circumstance arises. Don’t make a big deal – you got caught
  • Respect bar owner wishes regarding smoking in public areas/establishments. This is becoming more of a taboo

Many thanks to the brave, anonymous smoker friends that let me pick their brains about this fascinating topic! As the medical marijuana and recreational legalization efforts in the USA expand, it’s interesting to compare and contrast laws and attitudes in the developing world, especially a one-party socialist state.

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