Pubdate: Thu, 12 Nov 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


A few years ago, State Controller Betty Yee went to the funeral of 
her close friend's mother, who had died of cancer.

At the service, after prayers and eulogies had been made and the 
proper respect paid to the deceased, Yee's friend stood up. Instead 
of more words of comfort, she issued a proclamation that shocked her 
mother's straight-laced, "very conservative" family and friends.

"I just want you all to know," she said, according to Yee's 
retelling, "that my mom died really happy."

Toward the end of her life, the daughter said, her suffering mother 
wanted to try medical marijuana. Through the San Francisco cannabis 
community, she found some - and it helped.

Let's put this in context. In San Francisco's Chinese-American 
community, cannabis is loathed and feared so much that it may as well 
be heroin. Yee's friend's confession was the equivalent of a 
pronouncement at an Irish Catholic wake that Mary Katherine had 
dabbled in cross-dressing before she passed on - or that the scion of 
a red state Bible-thumping family was gay.

Cannabis use remains taboo in Asian American communities, according 
to Tiffany Wu and Monica Lo. As has been repeated time and again in 
this newspaper, the people most resistant to cannabis dispensaries in 
their neighborhoods in San Francisco have been the Chinese. (See "No 
Ma," SF Weekly, 4/22/2015).

Wu and Lo are two Chinese-American twentysomethings with the kind of 
credentials that please high-achieving immigrant parents: Wu is a 
Harvard Law School graduate, and Lo spent years as a creative 
director at a New York City design firm.

Now they're both in San Francisco, smoking weed (and being 
photographed in the act in for the San Francisco Chronicle).

Both of them used cannabis for years before telling their families. 
Lo says she only "came out" - note the word choice - to her parents 
earlier this year.

And just in time, as they're both involved in the cannabis industry 
(Wu as a lawyer; Lo in product design). To help others avoid their 
decade-long ordeal of denial and secrecy, the pair co-founded Asian 
Americans for Cannabis Education. The organization seeks to change 
what has been a stubborn cultural resistance among Asian Americans to 
embrace the cannabis plant.

Lo and Wu have a hypothesis as to why. In most Asian countries, drug 
use is severely punished. They also point to the Confucian values of 
education and filial obedience as one possible reason for Asians' 
aversion to weed. People may fear that marijuana use can lead to 
failure in the classroom, or be reluctant to challenge their parents' 
preconceived notions about the danger of the drug. Then there's the 
group shaming.

"In Asian culture, what you do reflects on your family," says Wu, who 
notes that positive role models of successful marijuana users are in 
short supply in the Asian community. "We practice what we preach. We 
both went to good schools, got good jobs, and we're pretty successful."

That sort of example, they hope, can start to crack the almost 
ironclad reluctance in the Asian community to see cannabis as a 
legitimate medicine and an acceptable recreational drug.

Yee thinks that the state's recent move to regulate medical marijuana 
at the state level may also help sway Chinese Americans, who she 
describes as "very law-abiding and conservative when it comes to 
public safety."

Maybe that could also sway the city's most influential Chinese 
Americans: the ones who work at City Hall.

In Yee's Sunset District, a series of laws passed by district 
Supervisor Katy Tang and her predecessor, current Assessor-Recorder 
Carmen Chu, all but forbid taxpaying dispensaries. Both politicians 
say they were following the will of their constituents - and they 
were - but they also declined to correct much of the Reefer 
Madness-worthy rhetoric that came from the neighborhood.

Yee also recently set foot in a certain type of small business where 
Mayor Ed Lee - who has visited "hundreds" of small businesses during 
his time in office, according to his press secretary - has feared to 
tread: One of San Francisco's roughly 30 medical cannabis dispensaries.

It was while standing inside a dispensary - The Apothecarium on 
Market Street in the Castro - that Yee recounted the tale of her 
friend's mother.

"It's been a tough sell," she said, noting that government has 
"played a role" - by collecting taxes and by setting rules - in 
demonstrating that weed can be used responsibly by successful people 
- - and indeed, that it can improve their lives.

It's time for San Francisco city government to play that role, too. 
If a Harvard Law grad can come out to her parents about smoking weed, 
the mayor can come out to a dispensary and say hello.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom