The great legalization debate

The great legalization debate

(Photo: Getty Images)

Today, April 20, marks a day that has managed to become something of a global holiday in the face of official condemnation. 4/20 is the infamous holiday when pot smokers from all over the world gather in celebration.

In Denver, stoners from across the state will gather at Civic Center Park for 4/20 to smoke in demonstration for an ongoing plea for the legalization of marijuana. While the idea of socially active potheads may seem rather oxymoronic, the event is a huge success every year.

The Denver 4/20 rally has evolved into a movement meant to educate the community on current marijuana laws and other popular issues. The event connects attendants with public speakers, local businesses, musicians and attorneys associated with the medical marijuana community. At exactly 4:20 p.m., smokers light up and raise a hazy cloud of smoke over the downtown area.

The rally’s efforts seem to have finally paid off now that the Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative will be on the November 6 ballot. Started by the Legalize 2012 campaign, the measure is a constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state.

Given that medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, after Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill into law, the new initiative may not seem so radical. However, 59 percent of the state rejected a similar amendment in 2006 that would have legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for those 21 or older.

Then, in December 2010, Colorado State Representative Claire Levy introduced legislation that would set a marijuana-impairment standard for drivers. It moved through to the Senate despite evidence that proved the limit was too low and could lead to the incarceration of drivers who use marijuana on a regular basis, such as medical marijuana patients, even though they would be in no way incapacitated.

The circumstances in Colorado make this the perfect time for a long overdue conversation about legalization. In the failed war on drugs, there are countless economic incentives and other human issues that any logical person could point to as proof of the need for legalization. However, those of us engaged in the debate tend to focus on the reasons why marijuana should be legal and, all too often, we don’t stop to consider some of the reasons why it shouldn’t be illegal.

Many are still unaware that marijuana was outlawed by deliberately misinformed lawmakers. In fact, the very first federal vote to prohibit marijuana was based entirely on a documented lie on the floor of the Senate. The history of marijuana’s criminalization in America has been fueled by racism, yellow journalism and the protection of corporate profits.

When marijuana was outlawed in California, it was partially due to growing tensions between farmers and Mexican migrant workers felt during the Great Depression. Many of these Mexican immigrants smoked marijuana, and then, suddenly, California passed a law outlawing “preparations of hemp, or loco weed.”

Similarly, when marijuana was outlawed in Texas, a senator used racist testimony in support of the plant’s prohibition, claiming that “all Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff is what makes them crazy.”

This November, voters in the several states considering legalizing the recreational use of marijuana should consider the legitimacy of marijuana’s criminalization before casting their ballot.


This article originally appeared in Being Latino.