Domestic Prohibition to Blame for ‘Death Penalty’ Drug Cases

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People across the western world reacted with shock and horror when they learned that a British citizen faces serious punishment for the possession of cannabis oil in Bali, Indonesia. In fact, early articles reporting the issue screamed that he could face the death penalty for his relatively minor charges. Many people were quick to point the finger at Indonesia’s government, as though their policy somehow formed in a vacuum without any sort of pressure from other political forces.

There is no question that Pip Holmes, a 45-year-old artist from Cornwall, should not face up to 15 years in prison simply for bringing cannabis oil for medical purposes into the country. The cannabis oil in question came in a package mailed from Thailand. Unfortunately, as often happens, someone in the postal service got smart to what was in the package. Holmes was detained and later arrested for smuggling after he went to pick up the package on December 3rd.

Despite an attempt by his attorney to seek more lenient treatment as a drug addict, Holmes will still face drug smuggling charges, which could result in between five and 15 years in Indonesian prison. He is one of five individuals who wound up in a very surreal press conference, which included each of the defendants wearing full face ski masks.

Many newspapers were quick to point out that he could face the death penalty, but the small amount of cannabis oil he received in the package precludes that punishment. However, it is worth noting that many people can and will face the death penalty in Indonesia and other countries for possessing larger amounts than what Holmes had in his package.

While people want to point out Indonesia as unnecessarily cruel in its sentencing options for drug crimes, those policies are a direct result of the United States leveraging its international power for decades to force every other country in the world to prohibit the possession of cannabis and other substances the U.S. federal government found questionable. We turned our failed War on Drugs into an international virus, which has infected governments around the world. In some ways, our domestic policy is responsible for this travesty, as well as for issues like Rodrigo Duterte‘s extrajudicial killing of drug addicts, sellers, and users.  Our president has even praised the street murders of thousands as a policy success.

Indonesia is not the only country that can and does sentence people to death for certain drug offenses. Malaysia, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, China, Egypt, India, North Korea, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, North Korea, and Libya, among others, can all sentence individuals to death for possession of large amounts of drugs or for trafficking offenses.

As legal reform sweeps across the United States and other countries, citizens in those nations will be quick to speak poorly of nations that still have draconian, harsh punishments for cannabis. In reality, those penalties result from domestic prohibition. Repealing prohibition policies across the United States is only the first step toward true justice. Our government will have to undo years of international damage caused by prohibition once it ends its own damaging stance on cannabis, as well as other drugs.


For other Ladybud articles about drug policy reform, click here.