by Maximilian Eyle
The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) formally announced their opposition to cannabis prohibition and endorsed full legalization of cannabis in the United States. Of the many reasons they cited, institutionalized discrimination was the most powerful. They explained that during the early 1900’s, nationalist politicians used cannabis as a tool to create a fear of Mexican immigrants. Cannabis had been used medicinally in the United States for many years, appearing in medications for pain relief, insomnia, and other illnesses. The Caucus’s resolution states, “The racist politicians who first criminalized cannabis, used the term ‘marijuana’ (sometimes spelled ‘marihuana’) to refer to it, precisely because they wanted to underscore that it was a Latino, particularly Mexican ‘vice,’ and that word, with all its implications, has become the most common names for cannabis in the United States today.”
The use of cannabis prohibition as a means of persecuting minorities continues today. The American Civil Liberties Union notes that people of color and Hispanics are around four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people – despite the fact that all of these groups use cannabis at equal rates. The connection between cannabis prohibition and government control was revealed again in 1994 when John Ehrlichman, former counsel and Assistant to President Nixon, said: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. Raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The National Hispanic Caucus asks that we end this system of discriminatory law enforcement by legalizing cannabis, calling it a “civil rights issue”. Colorado State Representative Dan Pabón (D) sponsored the resolution, saying: “In Colorado, we have successfully legalized cannabis and we have been able to reduce crime by 10.1%, increase revenues by more than $300 million that we dedicated to our schools, and have a new thriving industry that creates jobs.” All eyes will be on the Federal Government as the tension plays out between the states that have already legalized cannabis and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ goal to dedicate more resources to enforcing prohibition.
In New York State, there is a small medical marijuana program but the drug remains illegal for general consumption. A spokesperson for NY Grows pointed to the tremendous benefits legalization could bring to the state. “Every day that cannabis remains illegal, more of our youth have their lives ruined by drug convictions. We need to start treating cannabis like alcohol – regulate it, tax it, and legalize it.” NY Grows is a statewide educational resource focused on innovative solutions to cannabis policy in New York.
Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at email@example.com.