Why Immigrants Are a Difficult Group to Convince About Marijuana

There is a group that has yet to dive in full force: Latinos, specifically those that were born abroad
Why Immigrants Are a Difficult Group to Convince About Marijuana
Marihuana medicinal.
Foto: Shutterstock

The campaign to legalize marijuana in different states from the country relies on an American public that is more and more open and in favor of that change, but there is a group that has yet to dive in full force: Latinos.

In fact, the most resistant group to the legalization of marijuana —although many support medicinal marijuana– are Latinos born abroad, that is to say, immigrants.

Their views are such even when studies seem to prove that the legalization of marijuana in the United States, which if its sale were approved would be controlled and taxed just like alcohol and tobacco, would reduce the profits of drug cartels in Mexico and with them, violence and domination of these violent groups.

“Marijuana represents half of the proceeds from the cartels. Legalizing marijuana is equivalent to reducing the power of the same,” said Antonio Gonzalez, from the Research Institute Willie Velasquez.

“But Latino voters are divided and immigrants are the least who want to support legalization,” added Gonzalez. “In 2010, the last election on the legalization of marijuana that took place in California, that was one of the reasons why the initiative was unsuccessful.”

The numbers explain it clearly. A study conducted by Pew two years ago reveals that among registered voters in the United States, Hispanics or Latinos have the lowest percentage of support for the legalization of marijuana: 49%, compared to 53% of the general population, 52% of whites and 63% of African Americans.

But when separating Latinos born here from the immigrants, there is an enormous difference: 57% of native-born Latinos support it while only 27% of immigrants do.

Latino immigrants know firsthand the havoc that drug cartels and, at the same time, the already famous American “war” on drugs, have wrecked in their countries. But they also seem more conservative when it comes to the liberalization of the sale, a contradiction that is still being studied.

Gonzalez acts as adviser to the supporters of a measure that will legalize cannabis in California. The Latino vote will be the key.

“We are holding community meetings and seeing what it takes to win those undecided,” Gonzalez said.

It is possible that opposition to legalization of drugs reflects the attitudes prevailing in these immigrants’ countries of origin. In Mexico, for example, public opinion is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, unlike what is now seen in the United States, but a movement for medicinal and even recreational marijuana is gradually emerging.

The Effects of Legalization

In fact, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in December in favor of a group called the Mexican Society of Tolerant and Responsible Personal Use (SMART) that seeks to grow and use their own marijuana, a step that former Secretary of Foreign Relations, Jorge Castañeda, praised in a recent article, stating that it could lead eventually to greater legal drug production and lower prices and profits for the cartels.

However, there are reasons —and numbers- that suggest that the relative legalization United States is experiencing is already impacting negatively cartel business. In this country, 23 states have already legalized the medicinal use of the drug, and another five completely legalized the grass. California, Nevada and Arizona will have legalization initiatives on the ballot in November.

According to the latest figures from the Border Patrol, the amount of marijuana that authorities seized on the southern border has dropped to its lowest level in a decade. Also, the price of marijuana in Mexico has been declining and there are signs that the quality of the Mexican “Mary” does not compete well with the one being grown in the United States.

As for the war on drugs, young Latinos, like African-Americans, have been the main victims of a growing trend in recent decades of imprisonment and Draconian sentences given for a minimum possession of marijuana.

Alex Johnson, a former prosecutor who worked for the county of Bronx in New York, and now heads the California Children’s Defense Fund, said arrests for possession of marijuana destroy the lives of many young minorities.

“The detainees for possession and use are very out of proportion, minorities’ young people. A young person can go to jail for simple possession, he then cannot pay his bail because he has no money. He then loses his job and things go from bad to worse thereafter.”

It is clear that for many Latino immigrants, legalization of marijuana is unacceptable, because they believe that the drug is harmful and that those who want to legalize it “just want to do business.”

“Those born here and young people” believe “or have been led to believe with so much propaganda that marijuana is” natural “that is, it does not hurt. And that’s a lie,” said Patricia Lopez, a Central American immigrant. “We, the older and born outside the United States, were raised to believe that marijuana is a drug. And so it is.”