By Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Polls suggest that Hispanics in California are largely opposed to Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in that state. This is unfortunate since Hispanics have historically been disproportionate victims of drug prohibition.
Earlier this week, David Kopel wrote a historical analysis in Encyclopedia Britannica of the racist origins of marijuana prohibition, which targeted Mexicans in particular. Back in the 1930’s when the federal government started cracking down on marijuana consumption, officials openly worried about the effect of the drug on “degenerate Spanish-speaking residents … who are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions.”
Some people might claim that even though racial profiling certainly was behind marijuana prohibition, its current enforcement affects all racial groups alike. However, a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance shows that Hispanics are still overwhelmingly targeted by the police for marijuana offenses. The report states, “From 2006 through 2008, major cities in California arrested and prosecuted Latinos for marijuana possession at double to nearly triple the rate of whites,” even though surveys show that young Hispanics use marijuana at lower rates than young whites. Hispanics are still victims of racial profiling due to marijuana prohibition.
It is not surprising that a socially conservative electorate such as Hispanics would oppose marijuana legalization. Unfortunately, many misconceptions about drug legalization still abound and are magnified by opponents of the measure. Thus, it is important that Hispanics keep in mind that:
- Legalization doesn’t mean endorsing or consenting drug consumption.
- There is an important difference between drug consumption and drug abuse, just as there is a big difference between alcohol consumption and alcoholism.
- There is also a critical distinction between the negative consequences of drug abuse, such as family disintegration, health problems, loss of workers’ productivity, etc., and the negative consequences of prohibition, like crime, violence, corruption, and high mortality of users due to overdoses, etc. Many people, when arguing against legalization, bring up scenes of violence and crime, when actually these problems would greatly diminish once the illegal black market for drugs is legalized.
- Legalization doesn’t pretend to solve the problem of drug addiction nor the social ills related to this phenomenon, though there is evidence that liberal drug policies can abate drug addiction problems. However, what legalization mostly seeks is to eliminate the negative side-effects of prohibition.
Hispanics should also take note of what Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has said about Proposition 19. The war on drug has been wreaking havoc in Latin America, and it’s increasingly threatening the institutional stability of Mexico and Central America, where many Californian Hispanics come from. Santos has signaled that passing Proposition 19 would force his government to push for a “world-wide discussion” on drug policy. Marijuana legalization in California could thus trigger a global debate on ending the war on drugs, which has cost Latin America dearly for so many years.
Hispanics in California have many reasons to favor the end of marijuana prohibition. They would be doing themselves a big favor if they vote yes next Tuesday.