The headline in Friday's LA Weekly blog by Dennis Romero, "'LULAC,' Huge Latino Group, Endorses Prop. 19, California's Marijuana Legalization Initiative", is informative and fair enough. It's the lede that made me wince:
Surprise surprise. Latinos are getting behind the California ballot initiative to legalize pot. You mean the same folks who gave the world Cheech (not Chong), Acapulco gold and the very word marijuana? Orale!
"Far too many of our brothers and sisters are getting caught in the cross-fire of gang wars here in California and the cartel wars south of our border," [state LULAC director Argentina Dávila-Luévano] says. "It's time to end prohibition, put violent, organized criminals out of business and bring marijuana under the control of the law."
It is surprising that LULAC is endorsing Prop 19 because (despite what Cheech Marin's comedy routines lead LA Weekly to believe) Latinos are almost the least likely among racial and ethnic groups to have smoked marijuana. Only 28% of Hispanics, as noted by the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health for 2008, have ever used marijuana in their lifetimes, compared to 40% for African Americans and 45% for Whites. Only Asian Americans rank lower, with just 15.5% lifetime use. (So much for Harold and Kumar.)
Even if we look at the most, ahem, chronic marijuana smokers - those listed on the NSDUH as having used more than 100 days in the past 12 months - only 2.9% of Hispanics use marijuana with that frequency, compared to 3.8% of Whites and 6.4% of African Americans. (It is Chong, not Cheech, who more closely matches the data. A majority - 52.3% - of multi-racial people like the Irish-Chinese Chong have used marijuana in their lifetime and a full 8% used more than 100 times in the past year. But Tommy Chong is Canadian and this data is for American use, so all bets are off.)
It's also a bit unfair to say the Mexicans "gave" us the word marijuana. Nobody in early 20th century America had heard of "marihuana" until William Randolph Hearst's papers were spilling ink about it. However, everybody knew about the cannabis medicines and hemp products available back then. It would be more accurate to say that American government and media seized upon the slang term to scare Americans about something foreign.
Wait, how's legalizing it going to end the cartel wars? Wouldn't demand go up, with supply following?
Call us stupid (and we know you will), but when medical marijuana dispensaries started to blossom like a bud in the Humboldt sun, violence related to pot increased -- and it seems to us the cartels are plenty busy sending serious weight across the border.
Any violence related to marijuana is a result of its prohibition. You don't see gangs shooting up neighborhoods over Budweiser distribution and you don't see Mexican immigrants tending clandestine vineyards or hops fields in the state parks. (You do see police SWAT teams destroying legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries and shooting people and pets in their homes, though.) Prop 19 will be legalizing every Californian's right to grow personal marijuana and allowing all 478 cities to determine if and how they will regulate commercial cultivation and sales. Increased personal supply and personal sharing and legal commercial distribution will drive down the price of marijuana to the point where criminals can't compete with legit businesses.
I get that blogging is about tongue-in-cheek humor; I do it all the time. But this racist appeal to the stereotype is not just reminiscent of Anslinger-era scaremongering about the violence and mayhem attributable to "degenerate Spanish-speaking residents", it's factually inaccurate.
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