24 Countries That Have the Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking

Handcuffed hands on a table beside packaged drugs

Drug trafficking, unlike drug consumption, is considered a very serious crime in most parts of the world and is usually punishable by several years of imprisonment. In some cases, even capital punishment is invoked. Trafficking is defined by carrying a specified quantity of drugs like marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine etc, and the punishments depend on the quantity, geographical location, the intent of the offender, and whether or not minors were involved.

There are varying degrees of severity for drug-related crimes; some jurisdictions have severe punishments for minor drug-related crimes while others only persecute if a certain amount of drug is found on the offender in a repeated felony.

If you’re studying to become a lawyer who specializes in crime, it’s important to have some familiarity how crimes are uniquely treated. Let us have a look at some of the most severe punishments for drug trafficking around the world.

United StatesProtestors rally for marijuana legalization

In the US, controlled substances are ranged in ‘Schedules’ from I to V, which describe and classify the substances in order of their severity.

If you are found in possession of drugs, especially those of a higher order, you could be charged with trafficking if police believe you intended to sell them and you will be facing drug distribution charges.

The death penalty is available in the federal system but not particularly used. The legalization of marijuana by several states has sent the imposition of federal laws in further disarray.

ChinaDrug related laws in china

According to this PDF, China is extremely secretive about the drug-related prosecutions in the country. It is impossible to know the actual number of sentences and convictions. Despite receiving numerous recommendations to revise its drug laws, the Asian superpower has not ratified the international treaty that governs the use of capital punishments.

Citizens can be executed for several drug-related crimes including drug manufacturing, trafficking, and smuggling. Despite the information being held, reports of execution have surfaced over the years. In 2018, two drug traffickers were sentenced to death in front of a crowd of 300; another report detailed the public execution of ten individuals.

IndonesiaProtest against death penalty

All islands that make up Indonesia have a death penalty for drug-related crimes depending on the severity of the offense; mostly in relation to drug trafficking or the possession of large amounts of drugs. Other drug crimes can result in a life sentence or other harsh persecutions.

MalaysiaWarning against drugs

In Malaysia, if you are found with a large number of drugs in your possession, you can be punished with death. For having a smaller amount, you can be fined, deported, or jailed for years.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia ranks third in the world for the most amount executions enforced. In 2015, 43 percent of those given capital punishments had been convicted for drug smuggling, ranging from marijuana to hard drugs like heroin.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Although the Democratic Republic of Congo does make a provision for capital punishment in drug-related crimes, the punishment is often not enforced. Moreover, public executions are forbidden without executive permission, and a law from 1936 disallows the photographing of executions.

Source: Death Penalty Worldwide

BahrainDrug traffickers caught

Bahrain also reserves the right to capital punishment for drug trafficking if the intoxicant exceeds a certain amount. Just last month, on March 3, 2019, The First High Criminal Court sentenced two convicted two felons to death after discovering they were guilty of smuggling 68 kg hashish from Iran via sea.


Singapore drug laws are extremely strict by any standards; they include long term imprisonment, caning, and even the death penalty. The law cites that just carrying more than a set amount of controlled substance will be considered trafficking; 30 grams of cannabis, for example.

The law also presumes that a person possesses drugs if he the keys to a building containing the drugs are found on him, or if he is seen leaving a site known for the administration of drugs.


In Vietnam, drug crimes are punished with extreme penalties. In fact, if you get arrested carrying more than 1.3 pounds of heroin, you will automatically be liable for execution by lethal injection.


Even though there is a death penalty for drug trafficking in Qatar, executions are relatively rare. The most recent execution was performed by a firing squad.


Holy man smokes in India

Death by capital punishment is an option in India only when it is a second conviction by the same offender for drug trafficking. The quantities of various drugs that will result in the death penalty are specified by the law in detail.

Due to the efforts of Harm Reduction International, however, an amendment was made in 2014 that made it optional for the judge to award capital punishment.

Sri LankaThe President of Sri Lanka

In February 2019, the president of Sri Lanka said that the 42-year moratorium on capital punishment will be lifted two months, starting with the hanging of drug-related convicts.

“I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two,” he said. “I appeal to human rights organizations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”

Until now, the punishment for severe crimes was limited to life in jail.


According to Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Law, the possession of narcotics is a felony that can be punished by death or life imprisonment if the accused is found in owning more 30 grams (1.1 ounces) of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, morphine, LSD, or similar hard drugs. However, the death penalty has been eased recently and only life imprisonment is enforced.

LibyaFiring squad in Libya

According to reports by Amnesty International, “courts continue to hand down death sentences, mostly for murder and drug-related offenses.”  Drug trafficking is punishable by death or life imprisonment, with a fine in addition.

The scariest part of these death sentences is that convicts are shot to death by a firing squad. All other methods of execution are considered ‘repugnant’ and are prohibited. Execution by firing squad is the preferred method of execution.

North KoreaMarijuana being smoked

If you do end up traveling to North Korea for some reason, do NOT make the mistake of bringing drugs of any kind. If caught, you will find yourself sentenced to awfully long imprisonment in a camp. You will not be allowed any contact with your friends or family, and it will be near impossible for the US government to intervene on your behalf. If you are found with a large amount, it goes without saying that they have a death penalty for drug-related crimes.

South Korea

Even though South Korea does have capital punishment for drugs, there is a de facto moratorium imposed since not one person has been executed since 1997. There are people still on the death row, but new death sentences have not been passed in recent years.

TaiwanA stash of drugs

The legal penalty of execution is valid under the Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act in Taiwan; though it has not really been enforced in recent years. The last execution for a drug trafficking offense took place in October 2002.

The Philippines

The Philippines has the strictest drug laws you will find anywhere in the world. Drug traffickers are sentenced to death, and you may be considered a drug trafficker if you have even less than a third of an ounce of any drug in your possession.

BangladeshStatue of Justice standing on a guillotine.

Bangladesh’s cabinet on Monday approved a law allowing the death penalty for drug offenses, despite extensive disapproval over the drugs crackdown in which the police shot dead over 200 people in two months.

The new law proposes the death sentence as maximum punishment for producing, smuggling, distributing and using more than 5 gm of meth and other drugs. It even criminalizes the consumption of shisha.


Plants on a dessert-like environment.

There have been no drug-related executions in Myanmar in recent history. However, the information available on the International Federation of Human Rights website claims that drugs crimes can still be punished by the death penalty in Myanmar, in theory. This includes lightweight drugs like marijuana as well.


In Brunei, the legal methods of execution are hanging and, since 2014 when aspects of the Shariah Law were imposed, stoning as well. You can be sentenced to death for many capital crimes, including for carrying a specified amount of drugs within Brunei territory.


Even though the death row has been completely empty in the country since 2010, the death penalty has not yet been abolished. Capital punishment laws are thriving, and are not only limited to serious crimes. You can end up on death row in Cuba for carrying a large number of drugs.


Earlier this year, the Egyptian cabinet approved a law that would see drug dealers sentenced to death. Even though Egypt did not have capital punishment in its jurisdiction before, the new amendment states that anyone who “brought or exported synthetic substances with an anesthetic effect, or harmful to mind, body, or psychological and neurological condition shall be punished by death”


Jordan had a moratorium on capital punishment between 2006 and 2014 that was lifted in 2015 with eleven executions in the same year. In 2017, 15 executions were performed. Even though none of those executions were related to drugs, they do come under capital crime.

Many NGOs and human rights organizations protest that the death sentence is inhumane; especially in cases of drug-related convictions, where the punishment rarely fits the crime. It would do well for all 33 countries still employing capital punishments to respect international human rights laws.

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