Thu, Feb 06, 2020 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia’s Shariah stronghold eludes drug ban by selling cannabis coffee

AFP, BANDA ACEH, Indonesia

A person mixes coffee beans with marijuana in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on Dec. 10 last year.

Photo: AFP

Agus plunges a wooden paddle into his coffee and marijuana-filled wok, taking care to roast just the right mix of ingredients — and stay one step ahead of police in Indonesia’s Aceh Province.

His contraband brew is a hit with locals and buyers in other parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago, who pay 1 million rupiah (US$75) for a kilogram of it.

Yet this is risky business in Aceh, where even drinking alcohol or kissing in public can earn you a painful whipping under its strict Islamic law.

Agus, not his real name, is part of a clandestine economy in the region at the tip of Sumatra, which, despite its no-nonsense reputation, is Indonesia’s top marijuana producer with fields covering an area nearly seven times the size of Singapore, according to official estimates.

Marijuana was once so common in Aceh that locals grew it in their backyards and it was sold to the public.

However, it was outlawed in the 1970s and Muslim-majority Indonesia has since adopted some of the world’s strictest drug laws, including the death penalty for traffickers.

The nation has declared itself in the midst of a drug “emergency” because of soaring methamphetamine use.

However, the situation is Aceh is muddled. Police hunt marijuana farmers, imprison users and torch mountains of the confiscated drug — more than 100 tonnes last year alone.

Yet just last week a lawmaker from the province proposed in parliament that the drug should be legalized, so the country could export it for pharmaceutical purposes.

He was quickly reprimanded by his Prosperous Justice Party, while the Indonesian National Narcotics Board slammed the proposal claiming it would discourage Aceh marijuana farmers from adopting its suggestions to switch to vegetables and other crops.

Despite the risks, Agus, said that he has little fear of going to jail.

“How can you ban something that’s everywhere?” he said, adding: “It’s all over Aceh. This huge crackdown just makes it rarer to see in public, but people still use it.”

Most days, his biggest concern is hitting the perfect ratio for his java — 70 percent coffee and 30 percent marijuana.

“If you put more than 30 percent ganja in there then you lose the coffee taste,” he said.

For two decades Agus was a white collar professional, but he swapped his prestigious career for a more lucrative trade to better support his family.

“I wanted to focus on coffee because this is my area of expertise,” he said.

Agus insists his recipe offers a pleasant, less intense high than smoking it or eating popular dodol ganja.

The local specialty mixes marijuana with a fudgy sweet made from glutinous rice, palm sugar and coconut milk.

“That stuff can really make you hallucinate,” Agus said.

How marijuana became a thing in Aceh is a matter of debate. Some say it was brought by Dutch colonists hundreds of years ago as a gift for a sultan in the jungle-clad region.

However, local historian Tarmizi Abdul Hamid said that marijuana use — for everything from medicine and cooking to repelling pests from crops and preserving food — can be found in manuscripts that pre-date the Dutch arrival.

“It shows that ganja can be used to cure baldness or high blood pressure,” he said of one text. “Ganja was also used for cooking and medicine,” he said. “Smoking, however, is not mentioned in the ancient scriptures.”

Centuries later, marijuana was on the front lines — literally — of a separatist insurgency in Aceh.

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