I can’t boycott the U.S.A., but …

Andy Stone

Last week I wrote a column urging people to stay the hell away from Bali. My feelings were based on Bali’s savagely unjust system of “justice,” as shown by their penalties – up to and including death – for carrying marijuana into the country. My outrage was triggered by the case of a young Australian woman caught with 9 pounds (yes, a large quantity) of marijuana. She was sentenced to 20 years – and the prosecutor said he was going to appeal that “lenient” sentence and try for life imprisonment. I found it particularly disgraceful since the man held largely responsible for a Bali terrorist bombing that killed more than 200 people was sentenced to just 30 months in jail, I received the usual flood of responses – some agreeing, some disagreeing … some disagreeing with a fury that bordered on violence.One woman wrote to say what a wonderful country Bali is and declare that everyone knows you can be arrested, prosecuted and punished for bringing marijuana there knowingly or unknowingly. I repeat: knowingly or unknowingly. My correspondent seemed to think that was perfectly reasonable. She said the young Australian was, in fact, lucky not to be put to death.So, someone else may have put drugs in your luggage without your knowledge (yes, these things do happen) – it doesn’t matter. You still can be put to death. And some people are convinced that’s just fine.Well, OK. I think that proved my point, which was this: They have the right to pass their own laws. We have the right to choose where we travel. And for me (and I hope for you) that means not Bali.I bring this painful subject up for a second time only because – fair’s fair – I now have to rage against my own country’s outrageous marijuana laws.I am required to rage because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling against “medical marijuana.” As you know, a number of states have passed laws allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for specific medical purposes, most often for cancer and AIDS patients. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal marijuana prohibition outweighs those state laws and that federal agents can arrest people regardless of their doctors’ prescription.Set aside the larger question of whether some relatively harmless green plant ought to be illegal at all. Let’s just focus on the fact that there are people suffering from serious conditions who get relief from their pain by smoking marijuana. A woman with a brain tumor testified tearfully that marijuana was the only drug that worked for her. Her doctor has tried prescribing narcotics – which is entirely legal for him to do – but they hadn’t worked. That doctor then prescribed marijuana, which worked wonderfully … except the federal government may now arrest that woman for using it.Again, let’s skip over the question of whether the Supreme Court decision was constitutionally appropriate.Let’s focus on the heart of the matter. The United States government has decided that – despite almost overwhelming evidence to the contrary – marijuana is so evil, so dangerous, that it cannot be prescribed by doctors, even for patients with the most extreme medical problems. Doctors can prescribe morphine; they can prescribe cocaine. They can even prescribe heroin. But marijuana … no! It’s just too dangerous.Crack cocaine ravages our inner cities. Methamphetamine ravages the countryside. Meanwhile, federal drug agents ravage the cancer wards, snatching healing medicine out of the hands of the terminally ill.I cannot boycott the United States. It is my homeland, my country … right or wrong. But I can bow my head in shame at our own savage injustices. And I can say that as a free nation, we must be able to do better than this.And, finally, no, I am not overlooking or dismissing the injustices we are inflicting on Iraqis at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. I am not unconcerned with genocide in the Sudan, genital mutilation in Africa, dictatorships in North Korea or Saudi Arabia … or any of the other horrors that plague our world.But I can’t wrestle with everything at once.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is