Arrest of Internet Personality Over Cannabis Leads to Discussion of Drug Laws in Taiwan

by Brian Hioe

Photo credit: Joeman/Facebook

INTERNET PERSONALITY JOEMAN was arrested on drug charges earlier this month. Though hardly the first time that a celebrity has come under public scrutiny for a drug-related arrest, the arrest has struck a chord with the public at large.

Joeman and several associates face charges over drug possession, with their homes in Zhonghe, Sanchong, and Xinzhuang searched. The group of arrested individuals also faced urine tests. Joeman himself faced charges over possession of only three grams of cannabis.

For his part, however, Joeman denies cannabis usage, and claims to be unaware of how the cannabis found in his home ended up there. Joeman did state that he had used cannabis while traveling in Thailand, but denied using it in any recent timeframe in Taiwan. While some of Joeman’s sponsorships have cut relations with him and Joeman apologized for his behavior, Joeman has stated that he intends to continue performing.

The fallout from the Joeman incident involved some disputes between Internet celebrities. Another influencer, Cheap, defended Joeman but came under criticism for a previous incident involving plagiarism.

Apology video by Joeman

Likewise, streamer Toyz, who previously faced a cannabis arrest, called for Joeman to undergo not only urine testing but hair testing. Toyz stated that during his arrest, his hair was tested, compared to urine testing as experienced by Joeman that only shows use of drugs within two weeks, which can show traces of drug use for two to three months after. Toyz claimed that, in his case, no traces of cannabis were found in his hair, but he was still sent to a correctional facility.

As a result, Toyz called for Joeman to also undergo hair testing. For its part, however, Taiwanese law enforcement has defended its actions, in responding to drugs found on the premises of Joeman’s home.

Taiwan continues to maintain Draconian punishments for drugs including cannabis at a time when other countries have shifted toward decriminalization. Among the countries to shift toward decriminalization includes the US, from which Taiwan imported much of its laws regulating drugs, as well as other regional countries such as Thailand. Indeed, punishments for cannabis usage can be more severe than spying charges.

Although questions continue to remain about whether Thailand will continue to maintain the legality of cannabis, the Taiwanese government has sought to discourage the growing trend of Taiwanese using cannabis while vacationing in Thailand. The Taiwanese government has sought to frame this as illegal, stating that Taiwanese could be punished if filmed smoking cannabis in Thailand.

To this extent, calls for legalizing cannabis in Taiwan are on the rise, as a result of young Taiwanese who have spent time abroad. In response, the government regulations attempted to frame even advocacy of the decriminalization of cannabis usage as inciting usage of cannabis and subject to punishment. This was criticized for violating fundamental freedoms of speech by advocates such as human rights lawyer and Green Party chair Zoe Lee, who filed a lawsuit against Elon Musk to mock the wide application of such laws.

It is to be seen whether the Joeman arrest leads to more social discussion of the arbitrary nature of drug laws in Taiwan or whether this contributes to greater social stigma around cannabis usage. Certainly, authorities are expected to use the incident to drive home the point of harsh legal punishments about cannabis and other drugs.