Buzz-Kill: UTRGV Marijuana Fair underwhelming and moralistic
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
By Carlos Valerio and Jonathan Salinas
Cannabis is experiencing a surge of approval throughout the United States as we have seen sates such as California, Washington and Colorado embrace recreational use, finding mostly positive results, refuting "pretty much every dire fear that the nation’s drug warriors predicted would come to pass."
So when we noticed a flyer advertising a marijuana fair on campus, we had to check it out, being that it's 4/20 week, and having experienced cannabis culture
with acquaintances, friends and professors. Expecting a progressive forum, promoting the changing attitudes towards the use of marijuana, perhaps even something student-led, having prepared with a specially, distinct slice of strawberry cake and tres leches frosting before the occasion, we instead got an underwhelming table featuring basic, scientific information about the plant in low-key moralistic pamphlets and self-assessments inside the student union. (The phrase "buzz-kill' suddenly regains its meaning.)
Finding the table where the UTRGV Counseling Center and the Collegiate Recovery Program Office were stationed (hosts/organizers of the event), we signed in. Asking what they were about, they informed us they were distributing information about marijuana awareness, what the plant consisted of chemically, its effects and the services they provide in addressing the "dangers" of marijuana. The center also offers resources for other kinds of substance abuses such as alcohol, tobacco and narcotics.
Their pamphlets displayed information about various aspects of the plant, such as Triggers, Cravings, What is Marijuana?, and Medical Marijuana.
The information often appeared contradictory, listing both THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) as being the decisive factor in what makes marijuana "recreational," while listing the medical benefits of THC in the "pros," such as slowing down the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Pressed on this, we were told by one of the tablers that what makes marijuana recreational is the "intentions" of the user.
Thus we see that the attempt to fuse science and moralism creates a skewed and contradictory view of marijuana that reinforces stigma that is then used as the moral basis for its illegality and criminalization, which disproportionately affects minorities and people of color, a subject we will be coming back to.
Another pamphlet "What is Marijuana?" describes the signs and behaviors of addicts such as "obsession," "psychological problems," "chaotic life," as being caused by marijuana rather than attributing those things to potential, preexisting conditions that users may be attempting to self-medicate, as there are many high-functioning marijuana users, some well-known in our community, whom we won't out, not just for their privacy, but because everybody in the RGV could name one or three.
'Info on Weed' contains some useful information about the Edocannabinoid System, "receptors in the brain that respond pharmocologically to cannabis which regulate our physiology." Alongside that information are "Quick Facts" about the negative effects associated with marijuana use, as well as a 3-column table displaying the brain structure, its affiliated regulations, and the THC Effect. Some of course, are positive: "Brain Stem; Information between brain and spinal column; Anti-nausea effects." Another listed "euphoria" under the "Nucleus Accumbens," which regulates motivation and reward.
Overall, the appearance was fair-balanced, if only for the subtle moralism referenced above. Texas is often predicted to be the last state in the nation where legalization would be realized. But there are some signs of progress as the Texas Department of Public Safety granted licenses to grow medical marijuana to three companies that earned approval from the state on September 1, 2017 as a result of the Texas Compassionate Use Act, according to austin.culturemap.com.
Among our youth populations and even conservative circles, and of course progressive, stigmatization of the plant is far less than that of public policy, especially now that there is an Attorney General in the White House who has publicly impugned the character of marijuana users, ramping up enforcement and penalties sought for users, which in typical fashion by this White House, reversed its policy just yesterday, in time for the holiday. As a community, nonetheless, we should strive to ask how we can destigmatize the plant in public life in order to have an honest conversation about how legalization could affect our economy, criminal justice system and social relations. Imagine that.
RGV NRML is the local affiliate of NRML, a D.C.-based organization/non-profit dedicate to "move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable." On their Facebook page, which is linked on the left, they often post information about their upcoming events and news related to the issue of legalization, for which they rigorously and successfully lobby.
Local 4/20 Events
This upcoming Thursday and Friday, Cine el Rey will be throwing a 4/20 fest this Thursday, and Yerberia Cultura will be hosting a DJ set by the acclaimed Neon Indian and a 4/20 art exhibit by local artist, activist and writer, Josue Ramirez, A.K.A. Raw mirez.
More info on cannabis culture
For a great source on all things marijuana, from strain types, their effects, legal struggles across the U.S., recipes, the most recent scientific findings, and all things that make cannabis culture a living and breathing thing just like others dedicated to substances intended to make the business of existing more enjoyable, like craft beer, check out Leafly.com (Speaking of the intersections between marijuana and craft beer . . . https://www.leafly.com/news/lifestyle/beer-cannabis-pairing-guide)
Why it's illegal
Marijuana has been consumed by humans for thousands of years, going back to the ancient civilizations of China and India. But it has only been illegal in the United States since the 1930s when a racist plot to criminalize Mexican and black men was masterminded by Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union:
"The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars. What’s more, it is carried out with staggering racial bias. Despite being a priority for police departments nationwide, the War on Marijuana has failed to reduce marijuana use and availability and diverted resources that could be better invested in our communities."
In their report, of which the above was an introduction, they state that "between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the U.S.," adding that "that’s one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system." According to the report, "Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession." In 2017, "Hispanics received 77% of federal pot sentences," according to U.S. News.
Those who live on or around campus know stories of friends who have gotten into worlds of legal and financial trouble for possession, criminalizing young, ambitious people pursuing their careers. Únete recently reported on how South Texas College police reporting unlocked vehicles have found probable cause in so doing. And this isn't even to mention the profitable industries, such as drug testing and private prison systems, who benefit from the prohibition of cannabis in many states across the U.S.
The spirit of Anslinger still haunts us today, even in the Valley. But as a growing movement for social justice, environmental justice and criminal justice continue linking arms in a common struggle, not just here, but across the state, a new vision of Texas begins materializing itself more and more. And although legalization often seems like an inevitability, we should not take progress for granted as activists and citizens, but instead do what we can to join the struggle. For the damage done to society in the meantime is real and lasting, but by no means -- at least entirely -- irreversible.
Carlos Valerio is a student at UTRGV where he studies philosophy. He will be graduating this May. Jonathan Salinas is the content organizer for Únete, an alumni of UTPA '15, Edinburg resident and community organizer.