Today in Singapore, a soccer player will be hanged by the neck until dead, because he was in possession of almost 92 ounces of marijuana.
That’s why I support marijuana legalization, period.
When Ohio’s Issue 3 polarized the marijuana reform community last year, I was one of the few national reform voices not just meekly offering half-hearted support, but I was out there cheerleading loudly for its passage.
My opponents had a solid point. Writing ten investors into the state constitution to be the sole landowners where legal commercial cultivation could be licensed was a stunning exercise in regulatory capture that would make the 19th Century Robber Barons proud. Issue 3’s loss of more than 2-to-1 was no surprise to me, but it depressed me nonetheless.
Because I’m not in this to save state budgets with marijuana tax revenue. I’m not in this to make pot growers rich.
I’m in this to keep people out of cages for weed, period.
Chijioke Stephen Obioha is a Nigerian who graduated from Benin University with a degree in industrial chemistry. He traveled to Singapore for a tryout with a soccer club there.
Singapore has some of the most draconian drug laws in the world, including capital punishment. Obioha traveled to Singapore in 2005 and was caught with the 92 ounces of weed in 2007. Singaporean law says that cannabis possession over 15 grams is per se evidence of drug trafficking – the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove Obioha’s guilt; Obioha must prove his innocence.
Amnesty International has called for the halting of Obioha’s execution today. “By executing people for drug-related offences, which do not meet the threshold of most serious crimes,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, “Singapore is violating international law.”
Indeed, the United Nations’ Human Rights Office for South-East Asia noted that “Under international law, the death penalty may only be used for ‘the most serious crimes’ which has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing. Drug-related offences do not fall under the threshold of ‘most serious crimes’.”
Obioha was sentenced to death in 2008, making his eight years on death row one of the longest-such delays in Singaporean history. Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign member M. Ravi stated that Obioha “has faced unprecedented mental anguish.” Ravi pointed out another Singaporean death penalty case where a “delay of 5 years and 6 months which had elapsed since an accused’s conviction amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and breached his constitutional right not to be deprived of life”.
Throughout the entire nine-year ordeal, Obioha has maintained his innocence. In 2010, his appeal was rejected, but in 2013, Singapore changed its death penalty laws, which opened the opportunity for Obioha to apply for resentencing. He rejected that opportunity for fear that doing so was tantamount to an admission of guilt.
Obioha’s brother explains what a shock this ordeal has been for the family back in Nigeria:
“A whole part of the family has been missing since that date in 2007…. I have always been in constant contact with him since his stay in prison and he has always kept to his stance of innocence…. A lot of both financial and physical effort has been made by our family towards his defence in previous years but due to lack of fund and restricted access to Singapore, it was difficult to carry on with his desire towards a defence lawyer…. My brother deserves to live. His life is precious to us.”
So, what does today’s execution of a Nigerian in Singapore have to do with state legalization initiatives in the United States? Everything.
Too many people here, especially on the West Coast, get caught up in the Green Rush thinking of who’s going to get rich from legalization, who’s going to lose business from legalization, and how will legalization affect their medical marijuana business. To me, they sound like soldiers in a foxhole complaining that storming that muddy hill may get their uniforms dirty.
This isn’t just a War on Drugs we’re fighting; this is a World War on Drugs we’re fighting. Every battle we fight is just one small tactic in a larger theater of war. Poland isn’t freed until we establish a beach head on Normandy and Japan isn’t defeated until we take a whole bunch of Pacific Islands. Likewise, Texas doesn’t get legalization until California does and Singapore doesn’t stop executing marijuana traffickers until the United States busts the international drug control treaties.
Chijioke Stephen Obioha hangs dead from a rope today because our longest-serving Drug Czar, Harry J. Anslinger, began scaring the world about cannabis in the 1930s.
By 1952, Anslinger shepherded the Boggs Act through the US Congress, establishing mandatory minimum possession sentences of two-to-ten years. Singapore’s version was the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952, which established mandatory minimum sentences of three-to-five years for marijuana possession.
To Ansligner’s dismay, people increasingly kept using marijuana, so he got the rest of the world to sign on to the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. That was amended by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, leading Singapore to pass their Misuse of Drugs Act of 1973 under which Obioha was sentenced.
Under that Act, possession of a mere 15 grams of marijuana or resin in Singapore means you are presumed to be a drug trafficker, guilty until proven innocent. For that, you will earn a punishment ranging from up to 24 strokes of caning (you don’t want to click that link) to life imprisonment. And as Obioha learned today, possession of over 500 grams is an automatic death sentence.
Obioha’s death – and the deaths of 100,000 Mexicans in their drug war, and the deaths of everyone shot by cops or cartels – is on us, the United States, for starting this World War on Drugs. It is our obligation and our duty to end this war, by any means necessary. Even if Nick Lachey might get rich.
Previously in Radical Rant: Weed’s Nightmare Trump Scenario
Read all of Russ Belville’s columns right here.