With all of the progression in the United States regarding marijuana laws, and the general shift in mainstream acceptance of marijuana, it may be easy to forget that we actually have it pretty easy here in the States. Yes, marijuana is still illegal federally, but 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing some degree of medical marijuana use. 14 of those states have taken steps to decriminalize the use of marijuana. Two states have completely legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Almost exactly a year ago, the US government announced that they would no longer actively pursue marijuana offenses in states that have legalized consumption and possession of marijuana, and would only become involved if violence or organized crime was involved.
That’s the current climate in THIS country. But what about overseas?
Last week, we discovered that Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee Chan, was arrested for marijuana possession and consumption in Beijing. He tested positive for consumption, and was discovered to have over 100 grams in his home. To put this into perspective, 100 grams roughly comes out to about 3.5 ounces. In California, as of January 2011, possession of an ounce or less is an infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine. Possession of over an ounce is a misdemeanor, but convictions are expunged from your records after just two years. In Colorado, you’ve been able to carry under an ounce of marijuana without penalty since 2005 (and the fine was only $100 since 1975).
So… what kind of punishment is Chan facing in China?
At the very least, Chan will be facing mandatory drug rehab, and up to three years in prison. The worst case scenario is execution. Yes, execution. It’s conceivable that Chan may be facing charges of distribution, which in China is an executable offense. In 2010, China executed six people in cases related to drug distribution.
Is it likely that Chan will be executed? No. Jackie Chan is a current member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which is a part of China’s legislative system. He has significant ties to elected officials, several businesses and investments in China, and somewhat ironically has been an anti-drug spokesman in China for over five years. Given his status in China, it’s unlikely that his son will be executed, however the mere possibility of such a thing certainly makes us realize how lucky we are in the States.
According to Wikipedia, capital punishment has been enforced for cannabis trafficking in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Singapore. Meanwhile, many countries in South America and Europe are decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana. Possession is effectively legal in the Netherlands and Uruguay (Uruguay being the first country in the world to make it legal to grow, sell, and consume marijuana). Oddly enough, it appears that cannabis is even legal in North Korea. (For a definitive list of legality of cannabis by country, refer here.)
Jaycee Chan’s case is definitely bringing international attitudes towards marijuana to the forefront. One can only hope that as attitudes change in the US, the rest of the world follows suit and perhaps reconsiders their laws regarding cannabis. Countries like Uruguay are slowly starting to realize the benefits that marijuana can have to their economy. In Amsterdam, it was reported in 2008 by the Dutch TV program Reporter that the government rakes in a little more than $600 million annually in taxes from their marijuana-selling coffee shops. Reporter estimated total sales at the coffee shops gross roughly $3 billion a year, and that about 25% of their tourists visit their coffee shops. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, the potential for tax revenue in China is staggering.
In 2003, it was reported that there has been evidence of a striking increase in alcohol abuse and related problems in China, with the “potential for a major impact on world health”. Since the 1950’s, alcohol dependence has moved from the ninth most prevalent mental illness [in China] to the third. In 2003, almost 7% of Chinese men were dependent on alcohol, and “experts in the field have been alarmed at the rate of increase of consumption and related problems, and a lack of comprehensive public health policy to deal with this”. But perhaps the reason that the Chinese government hasn’t done much to address alcohol abuse is because many government officials enjoy indulging themselves. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization, they noted that “Several studies have shown that alcohol-related liver diseases are among the most common disorders found on regular physical examination among government employees, 20-35% of whom have been found to have fatty liver disease”. I suppose that’s not all that surprising when many Chinese people in the workforce feel they need to drink in order to further their careers. In fact, there are even some job adverts which explicitly state “candidates with good drinking capacity will be prioritized“.
So why is marijuana such a big deal overseas? Maybe for the same reasons it’s still a big deal here in the states. It could be, and likely is, simply a matter of money. Governments generally don’t like things they can’t make a profit from. But China recently has started to look into the possibility of profiting from the sale of cannabis, filing 309 patents relating to marijuana. However, consuming the drug still remains illegal and is punished harshly, even though it’s proven again and again to be less of a public health hazard than alcohol and even tobacco (it’s estimated that China could have more than 1 million lung cancer patients by 2025). It seems incredibly hypocritical that the Chinese government is positioning itself to profit on the cannabis boom, while at the same time jailing its citizens for partaking. Then again, they may have gotten that from the US government, who has done the exact same thing.
So China… please reconsider. You have a rich history of herbal remedies going back millennia, and yet you still criminalize the one herb that has the potential to be the most therapeutic of them all.