Seventy per cent of the population of Saudi Arabia is under thirty years old. This means that the majority of Saudi young people have never seen a movie at a theater. You see, there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. They have been banned for over 35 years because of pressure from conservative Muslim clerics. As recently as last year, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheikh reportedly warned of the “depravity” of cinemas, saying they would corrupt morals if allowed.
But beginning this year, as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 social and economic reform program, the Saudi ministry of culture and information said “it would begin issuing licences immediately and that the first cinemas were expected to open in March 2018.” “This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom,” said Culture Minister Awwad Alawwad. “Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification; by developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the kingdom’s entertainment options.” The Saudi government expects 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens to open by 2030.
Because Saudi Arabia’s royal family and religious establishment strictly enforce Islamic codes of behavior and dress, expect strict government control over which movies can be shown.
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The opening of commercial cinemas in Saudi Arabia after 35 years is laughable to Americans. Are there any Americans who wouldn’t say that the government has no business being concerned about people’s entertainment practices? Are there any Americans who wouldn’t agree that no religious people should be able to use the power of the government to impose their will on others who don’t share their views? Are there any Americans who wouldn’t assert that movies should not be restricted or regulated by the government in any way?
Yet, most Americans are dead serious when it comes to supporting their government’s prohibiting the unrestricted and unregulated cultivation, possession, sale, and use of marijuana. Even among those Americans who support the legalization of marijuana for medical use, most would still maintain that marijuana should be used only under the care of a physician and be subject to stringent state regulation.
Although a majority of states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, many states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and some states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medial use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes. And just recently, the Justice Department rescinded the “Obama-era policy of discouraging federal prosecutors from bringing charges of marijuana-related crimes in states that had legalized sales of the drug.”
Just as opening a movie theater in Saudi Arabia was considered a crime, so the possession or distribution of marijuana in the United States is considered a crime. Under federal law,
Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For a second conviction, the penalties increase to a 15-day mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
The “distribution of a small amount of marijuana, for no remuneration, is treated as possession.” But “the manufacture or distribution of fewer than 50 plants or 50 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.” You can get life in prison for manufacturing or distributing 1,000 plants or kilograms of marijuana. You can even get the death penalty for “manufacturing, importing or distributing a controlled substance if the act was committed as part of a continuing criminal enterprise.”
The reaction of Americans to marijuana laws in the United States should be the same as their reaction to the prohibition of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia: laughter and ridicule.
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The good news is that winds of change are blowing in America, and they will be filled with marijuana smoke in 2018, thanks to ballot measures and legislation on the state level.
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah may have ballot measures this year to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Recreational marijuana is legal in 8 states and the District of Columbia. The legislatures in New Jersey and Vermont may legalize marijuana this year. Michigan may have a ballot measure to do the same.
The possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in 21 states and the District of Columbia. The Virginia legislature may pass a bill to decriminalize marijuana this year.
No one should ever be arrested, fined, or imprisoned for possessing a plant the government doesn’t approve of. Not in the land of the free.