An actress’s new role: making marijuana legalActress Kim Boo-sun was hardly the talk of the town until recently. As a soft-core pornography actress who hit her peak in the 1980s, Ms. Kim, now 44, seemed to be past her prime. She has served several jail sentences for drug use and also suffered from the social stigma of being a single mother after she had an affair with a married man.
With the passage of time, however, the baby girl became a teenager, and last year Ms. Kim made a long-awaited comeback. Featured in a small but impressive role in “Once Upon a Time in High School” as a middle-aged snack bar lady who seduces a high school student, Ms. Kim began to regain her charismatic presence on screen.
She cemented that recognition by starring in a TV drama, “Fire Bird,” which attained a high audience rating. What she’s best known for at the moment, however, is not her acting. It’s her fight to legalize marijuana in Korea.
She has a personal reason for speaking out on the issue. Last year, in the middle of resuming her career, Ms. Kim again made waves in the local press because of another arrest for smoking marijuana. Pictures of her desperately fleeing a house as the police searched it were all over the local magazines and tabloids. She was sentenced to eight months in prison and two years of house arrest.
Ms. Kim, however, has long insisted that smoking marijuana should not be illegal, but rather a matter of individual choice. And this time she decided to take action. In October, she brought a suit before the Constitutional Court, asking it to rule on the constitutionality of the drug law. She also appealed her conviction; a trial started last Tuesday, with a ruling expected this month, according to Kim Wan, a staff member of Cultural Action, a civic group that supports Ms. Kim’s motion.
Bringing a long-buried issue out of the closet, Ms. Kim at least has succeeded in raising public awareness of the issue, by making several announcements and holding press conferences about her suit.
Some see her as a Joan of Arc-like figure with the courage to break the silence. Others, however, view Ms. Kim as an indiscreet entertainer who is going too far in seeking the legalization of marijuana use, which is still a taboo in Korea. On the local entertainment scene, drug use has frequently produced widespread scandals, which have ended the careers of a number of celebrities. Prosecutors said earlier this year that they were keeping a close eye on celebrities suspected of drug use.
Whether she’s a courageous fighter or a reckless entertainer, one thing for certain is that Ms. Kim is not alone. After she filed her suit, a number of people in the entertainment field joined her by announcing their support. Included on a list of more than 110 people are the acclaimed film directors Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk, and the pop singer Jun In-gwon, who has been arrested for drug use in the past.
Kim Sung-jin, Ms. Kim’s lawyer, said, “Nobody knows what ruling the court will make, but I can be hopeful for a bright outcome, since the public is increasingly taking our side on the issue.”
In a phone interview on Monday, Ms. Kim, obviously upset and on the verge of crying, said, “I must be the one to speak out, if everyone else is too afraid to be honest.”
Prosecutors, however, stand firm in their view that marijuana is like any other drug, and must be prohibited by law, saying marijuana is a “gateway” drug that can lead to addiction to much stronger narcotics.
Under the current law, those who are convicted of drug use face penalties of up to five years in prison and 50 million won ($50,000) in fines.
“This is the same as for attempted murder,” Ms. Kim said, “which I cannot and do not want to believe. Marijuana is not harmful to others.”
In the early 1980s, Ms. Kim became addicted to methamphetamine, a much stronger drug. Arrested twice for using the drug, she spent months in jail, which she recalls as one of the darkest periods of her life so far. Ms. Kim said it was marijuana that helped her overcome her methamphetamine addiction.
“In a propaganda film made by prosecutors in the 1970s, marijuana smokers say things like they want to fly by jumping off a cliff or see cars on the street as toys that they can play with. You know what, they’re all downright lies,” Ms. Kim said. “Let me tell you, I’ve been there, done that, and marijuana can never be more harmful than cigarettes and alcohol. It’s not a sin to smoke some marijuana.”
While the decision is up to the Constitutional Court, Ms. Kim says she is confident she will win.
Citing drug expert Ju Wang-gi, a professor of pharmacology, Ms. Kim says marijuana is used in some countries as a painkiller for patients suffering from glaucoma, back pain and other illnesses.
Ms. Kim also said that marijuana has been shown to be only mildly addictive, compared to cigarettes and alcohol, based on research done in the United States and other countries.
“I’m suffering from glaucoma and back pain, which marijuana can help,” she said. “Plus, we have all this scientific research that backs up our side.”
Mr. Kim of Cultural Action goes a bit further, saying, “The law remains silent on drinking and smoking. Then why not marijuana?”
Saying she has no regrets about smoking marijuana, Ms. Kim commented, “Thirty years have passed since the law was enacted. It’s time for a change.”
by Chun Su-jin