MANILA - Vietnam's laws on marijuana use are tough on paper, but penalties are often not as harsh as for other illegal drugs.
Cannabis - even for medical use - is illegal in Vietnam, although oil with cannabidiol - a non-psychoactive chemical found in marijuana - is allowed and freely sold.
Marijuana is classified in Vietnam as a narcotic like heroin and cocaine. As such, it carries the same severe penalties - jail time or a death sentence, as for those caught with over 600g of heroin or 2.5kg of meth.
But travel bloggers and a journalist in Hanoi whom The Straits Times spoke to said law enforcers in Vietnam tend to be more forgiving when it comes to someone caught smoking marijuana, especially if the perpetrator is a tourist.
"Travellers to Vietnam report variable attitudes to recreational cannabis use throughout the country by the authorities," according to The Cannigma, a site dedicated to marijuana use.
Three expatriates who have lived in Vietnam for years wrote on their travel blog, Vietnam Chronicles, that while the police could be lenient, it is best to be discreet.
"Don't be the guy who is smoking in the middle of the street during the day," they said. "It's stupid and not respectful to locals."
A journalist at a Hanoi-based newspaper, who declined to be named as her husband works in law enforcement, said the police do occasionally make arrests, especially when it involves a big group smoking in a public place.
But the most that offenders face is a fine of about US$100 (S$140) and a stern warning, she said.
It is a totally different case, though, if it is someone smuggling massive amounts of weed, or running a big distribution or farming syndicate.
Last year, a 59-year-old Australian married to a Vietnamese was arrested for growing four stalks of marijuana at his home in Da Nang city, passing them off as "ornamental plants".
He was fined US$200. Had he been caught with as many as 3,000 stalks, he would have faced up to seven years in jail.
So, what about Joseph Schooling, Singapore's swimming champ who admitted to consuming cannabis in May in Vietnam while he was on short-term disruption from full-time national service to train for the SEA Games?
The journalist that ST spoke to said Schooling, had he been caught, would probably have been fined up to US$100 like any other tourist, and the incident could have been hushed up.
She said news of the Olympic athlete's confession has reached Vietnam, but there has been no official reaction or calls there so far for him to be charged.
Even if he was, Vietnam cannot compel Singapore to extradite him. Singapore has no extradition treaty with Hanoi.
But it is probably best if he stays away from Vietnam for now, a lawyer said.
"His lawyers have probably advised him not to go to Vietnam any time soon because he just confessed to committing a crime in Vietnam. As to when he can go back, that depends on Vietnam's statute of limitations," said the lawyer, who declined to be named.