Cannabis in Kazakhstan – Laws, Use, and History

The Kazakhstan flag and some cannabis plants growing in the sunshine

Kazakhstan is often called the birthplace of cannabis. It’s widely cultivated (particularly in the Chuy Valley) and thought to account for 97% of Central Asia’s supply. Despite this, cannabis possession and sale are illegal and the penalties for being caught with it are severe. Using cannabis in your own home is not listed as a criminal offence.

    • Capital
    • Astana
    • Population
    • 19,610,000
    • CBD Products
    • Illegal
    • Recreational cannabis
    • Illegal
    • Medicinal cannabis
    • Illegal

Cannabis laws in Kazakhstan

Can you possess and use cannabis in Kazakhstan?

During the Soviet era, efforts were made by the government to eradicate cannabis in Kazakhstan. The penalties for cannabis possession are still severe today, with offenders being given prison sentences (from seven to 14 years) or a fine.

Treatment for ‘addiction’ is mandatory, and all people caught with cannabis are taken to rehabilitation centres. Unlike some other parts of the world, the police aren’t lenient if they catch someone with cannabis. Bribery is practiced in the country, though offenders can expect to pay a significant sum in order to avoid being formally arrested.

Interestingly, using cannabis in your own home is not listed as a criminal offence.

Can you sell cannabis in Kazakhstan?

The law is even stricter for those who sell or distribute cannabis. If caught importing or selling it, there’s a risk that you’ll be sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, and given a hefty fine.

In 2008, the Criminal Code was amended, permitting the use of maximum life sentences for drug trafficking. The death penalty is still in place for supplying or selling drugs (though it was suspended in 2003); but this doesn’t apply to those caught selling cannabis.

The country’s counter-narcotics officials are active and regularly seize cannabis and hashish. It’s relatively easy to find someone selling cannabis in the country, though. In tourist areas, bars and nightclubs are sometimes frequented by sellers. There are also ‘hitchhiking taxis’ – private cars whose drivers may sell cannabis to tourists and locals alike.

Can you grow cannabis in Kazakhstan?

It is illegal to grow cannabis in Kazakhstan. In theory, cultivating it can lead to a prison sentence; though given that it grows in the wild, this law is hard to enforce (unless the offender is caught cultivating a significant amount).

Some farmers continue to harvest cannabis across the country, in spite of the laws. This is especially the case in Chuy Valley; an area of land about the size of France, where huge areas are covered with cannabis plants growing wild.

Small cannabis plants growing in little round pots

Is CBD legal in Kazakhstan?

The law doesn’t differentiate between cannabis and CBD, even though the latter contains far less THC (the substance responsible for the ‘high’). As such, CBD use or sale is illegal in the country.

A woman using a pipette to dispense CBD oil in her mouth

Can cannabis seeds be sent to Kazakhstan?

You’re not permitted to buy or sell cannabis seeds in Kazakhstan. This means you can’t mail them through the post.

Medicinal cannabis in Kazakhstan

At the time of writing, medical cannabis is illegal. However, the government announced that a hemp-processing plant would be built in the Jambul region, which is to the north of Chuy Valley. This would be used to process the wild cannabis too, with some being used for medical purposes.

The Almaty Special Partnership (who are behind the plans) have stated that many administrative stages must be completed before the project can be put into action. Some of these stages are complex, involving the acquisition of licenses and equipment, and the development of processes to extract the THC and other cannabinoids.

Still, it marks a shift in attitude among Kazakhstani officials. The Entrepreneurship and Industry Management Unit of the Jambul region has stated that the processing plant would create up to 150 new jobs. Although the cannabis grown will be largely used to create medical products for export, the plant may pave the way for medical cannabis to be used domestically too.

At present, the government’s focus seems to be on financial potential. Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov stated: “Cannabis grows all over the country. So we have to decide what to do with it. Either destroy it or use it for economic development.”

Industrial hemp in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has an abundant supply of cannabis growing wild across the country. However, the government has only recently started exploiting it commercially.

In 2017, the Agriculture Ministry announced that they had been cultivating industrial hemp in Almaty for the purpose of exporting it to Russia, China and the Netherlands. KazHemp (the company engaged in growing the hemp) extensively tested the soil quality in four regions of the country, and found that the Almaty had the best conditions for cultivation. They plan to extend the industry in the future.

The Agriculture Ministry commented: “The plan is to process the stems into 1,000 tonnes of fibre at a primary processing plant (…) for further use in the textile industry.”

One of industrial hemp’s most prominent champions is Dariga Nazarbayeva, the deputy prime minister. She focused her attention on hemp’s potential for making paper.

“Kazakhstan doesn’t have its own paper. Production of Kazakhstani paper is a very topical issue, including for printed media,” she commented.

Good to know

If you are travelling to Kazakhstan (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

  • It’s estimated that 400,000 hectares of cannabis grows in the Chuy Valley. It is mostly wild and is possibly one of the largest cannabis fields in the world.
  • Cannabis is widely used across the country. A 2001 report found that 1.7% of the total population were dependent on drugs. Of those, 81.3% of the cases were cannabis-dependent. 10% of all the respondents had used drugs at least once in their life.
  • The government has tried to eliminate drug use among young people by promoting youth sports as a viable alternative. Events under the slogans ‘Sport Against Drugs’ and ‘Tourism Against Drugs’ are regularly held in schools across the country.

Kazakhstani cannabis history

Kazakhstan is often referred to as the birthplace of cannabis. This cannot be scientifically verified, though there is evidence of the Kazakhstani people using cannabis and hemp many centuries ago. It’s believed that it was originally used as a fibre, with its medicinal benefits being discovered later.

The Scythians (nomadic tribes known to live in the country) were famous for their cannabis use. A Scythian burial site (‘barrow’) just outside of Kazakhstan and dating back to 300 BC, contained an embalmed body and a cauldron full of burnt hemp seeds. Another barrow had various cauldrons and flasks inside, also filled with seeds. Judging by this (and Herodotus’ descriptions of Scythian life), we can guess that these tribal people were burning cannabis seeds for their intoxicating effects.

A dug-up burial site with an embalmed body and other objects

In the Medieval era, the Kazakhs (descendants of the tribal people) continued using hemp for practical purposes like weaving and rope-making. There isn’t much evidence to suggest that they traded the cannabis, despite the fact that the country lies on the path of the ancient Silk Road.

Cannabis use remained common until the 1970s. Prior to this, it was openly sold in markets, with a cup of buds costing around the same price as sunflower seeds.

Modern Attitudes

Cannabis use is prevalent in Kazakhstan, despite the toughness of the law. This is especially the case near the Chuy Valley, where many people regularly consume it for recreational purposes. Likewise, use is widespread in the cities and is generally regarded positively.

It’s also part of Kazakhstani popular culture. Some of the country’s rap artists write music about Chuy Valley cannabis and the positives of using the drug. In 2009, Almaty-based film director Jantik released a movie called Shu-Chu, which focused on four friends travelling to the Chuy Valley and getting involved with the cannabis industry. The film demonstrates just how important cannabis culture is to people in Kazakhstan.

This positive attitude isn’t shared by everyone, though. The strictness of the Soviet era lingers on, and some politicians express negative views about its use. Even deputy prime minister Dariga Nazarbayeva (who openly supported the introduction of the industrial hemp industry) went to great lengths to reassure people that she wasn’t a cannabis user.

“I hope people don’t start saying I am a druggie,” she said. “I have never in my life ever used or sniffed…and I don’t even know what marijuana even smells like to be honest.”

What is the Chuy Valley?

The Chuy Valley is in the heart of Kazakhstan, in north Tian-Shan. It covers a total area of around 32,000 square kilometres and is home to an estimated one million acres of wild cannabis. This accounts for approximately a third of the available fertile soil. The Chu River, which runs right through the valley, provides the necessary water to help the plants grow abundantly.

What is Chuy Valley cannabis like?

Chuy Valley cannabis is prized for its potency. It is either dried and smoked, or processed into hashish, which is known locally as ‘ruchnik’. This literally means ‘made by hand’; as the farmers rub the leaves to collect the resin. This resin is then removed from the fingers, pressed and moulded into hashish.

The most popular form of hashish from the region is called ‘plastilin’ (plasticine) which has been harvested traditionally for centuries.

Farmers harvesting cannabis from a field

Protecting the gene pool

Kazakhstani farmers are fighting to protect the landrace cannabis genetics, as they may provide invaluable clues about the plant’s ancient roots, not to mention its evolution over time. However, the strict government laws mean that the crops are constantly at risk of being seized and destroyed.

The cannabis plants, which are typically sturdy and tall (around two metres), are ideal for breeding high-quality indoor strains. As such, the pure Kazakhstani landraces are also at risk from foreign genetic introduction or ‘inter-breeding’.

Already, there’s evidence that foreign cannabis has influenced the gene pool. This may have occurred in the past, due to Kazakhstan being on the Silk Road (an important trade route). Most experts believe that the Chuy Valley cannabis is actually a hybrid, mixed with Indian and Pakistani cannabis genes. However, this combination seems to have created a more potent end-result.

Will it be legalised in the future?

Legalising industrial hemp marks a change in government attitude – and an acknowledgement of cannabis’ money-making potential. However, to date, there has been no mention of legalising cannabis for personal or medical use.

  • Disclaimer:
    While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.


7 thoughts on “Cannabis in Kazakhstan – Laws, Use, and History”

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Jonny,

      Please see this section of the article:

      ‘The law doesn’t differentiate between cannabis and CBD, even though the latter contains far less THC (the substance responsible for the ‘high’). As such, CBD use or sale is illegal in the country. ‘

      With best wishes,


  1. Beerus "The Destroyer"

    Very nice this gave me some good Info, me and a friend are planning to travel the world and when we get here I’ll be sure too bury myself and get some dichka and find some of this smaller purple strain you talk about to genetically “preserve” as you’d say

  2. Great report! good knowledge…almost like you are local there 🙂 i remember my first harvest in steppes….sweet memories…..thanks again actualy nomad’s comment is truth we have very short types which harvested in october and they are purple little dwarfs much more potient than their high neighbours…and everything in one place as you correctly called it gene pool

  3. there’s a story about origin of cannabis in chu. very long time ago there was only one type of cannabis that originated in that area and spread wide all over the world. it was reintroduced back to chu but then it was a different type that already evolved into a different types such afgani-pakistani indica and indica from India and such. but the story says and there’re many proofs remain that in chu it’s still possible to find that rare mother cannabis type called ‘karlica’ (she-dwarf) which compare to its offsprings is very short, dark colored and way much potent than any known type of cannabis in modern world with THC level about 25%. unfortunately what we have now days in chu is mostly a hybrids and degenerates that have nothing in common with the mother.

    p.s. forgive me my english.

    1. Chris Young

      The Karlini dark,she dwarf at 25% THC is awesome but didnt the giant Russian Hempflower grow next to still extant giant Russian Sunflower? In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan,tricot of the original monocot that morphed into the universal dicot of the world floodplains? Where are the Ancient Astronauts on the plant?see acoustic tributes and ancient 70s gardens on super 8 @ Barbara Salisbury 199 vids @!You’re friends Chris and Barb here’s to President Putin’s 7 gm national Russian decriminalization!!

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Maurice Veldman

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