Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Column: California Journal
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Robin Abcarian


The town hall meeting, in a cavernous garage on an industrial side 
street in Gardena, was billed as an opportunity to learn about 
cannabis from some of the industry's experts.

I assumed there would be strong arguments made in favor of 
Proposition 64, the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana 
for adult recreational use.

But it hardly seemed necessary. From what I could tell, most of those 
in the room were already on board. Some had recently started 
businesses or were contemplating how to get a piece of what assuredly 
is going to be a huge economic pie if Proposition 64 passes.

One of the evening's sponsors, the California Minority Alliance, was 
founded to ensure that revenues from the legal marijuana industry 
make their way to the communities that have suffered most under the 
government's failed anti-drug policies.

"White people are getting ready to make this happen," said panelist 
Felicia Carbajal, a cannabis educator and activist. "If we don't 
participate with them, we are not going to reap the benefits, and we 
are the people most affected by the war on drugs."

Virgil Grant, who owned six L.A.-area cannabis dispensaries and spent 
six years in prison for conspiring to sell pot, was just as blunt: 
"African Americans spend a lot of money on cannabis. Get a stake in 
this business, not just as a consumer, but as an owner/ operator. 
This is not about smoking weed. It's much bigger than that. This is a 
billion-dollar industry."

You could practically see the imaginations of the 75 or so people in 
that room ignite.

Of course, there won't be much to dream about if Proposition 64 fails.

And while I have been cavalier about predicting its passage, I am 
acutely aware that success is not a sure thing. There is plenty of 
resistance to legalization among a key group of voters who could make 
or break it.

"Latinos in California are a large enough voting bloc that they can 
swing anything," said UC Davis political sociologist Mindy Romero. 
"It comes down to turnout."

In the 2012 general election, for example, Latinos represented nearly 
27% of eligible California voters but were responsible for only 19% 
of the ballots cast.

Romero and other experts anticipate a healthier November turnout by 
Latinos, galvanized by antipathy toward GOP presidential nominee 
Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, the opportunity to cast a vote 
for Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who is vying with California Atty. Gen. 
Kamala Harris for Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate seat.

But the Latino vote is not monolithic. And when it comes to 
marijuana, it presents something of a conundrum.

Younger Latinos - millennials - tend to favor legalization. But they 
also tend to vote in fewer numbers than their elders. And though the 
gap between those for and against legalizing has narrowed, an overall 
majority of Latinos still oppose it.

Which is why Gabriel Guzman, who runs the Monterey-area pot delivery 
service Namaste Wellness, describes the Latino electorate as a "waking giant."

"There's sort of a fear in educating Latinos about cannabis," said 
Guzman, who last year founded an educational nonprofit that 
co-sponsored the town hall. "They don't know what direction the 
waking giant will go."

"The polling shows there is work to be done," said Michael 
Bustamante, a "Yes on 64" spokesman, adding that "a very aggressive 
digital social media campaign" was planned to launch after Labor Day.

He wouldn't say exactly how, but he vowed to "help educate some of 
the older Latinos on this."

It may be an uphill battle.

"Older Latinos especially remember that the Spanish equivalent for 
'wino' is a 'marijuano' - a loser, a bad person, a bum," said 
political consultant Roger Salazar, who worked against legalization 
in 2010 when it appeared on the ballot as Proposition 19. This time 
around, he is neutral. "But if enough outreach is done, they are 
persuadable. Without outreach, they will not change. Skeptical voters 
are 'No' voters."

So how do you go about persuading the skeptics?

First, it seems, they must be convinced that marijuana is legitimately useful.

"Every one of us grew up rubbing something on our arm or elbow that 
was some kind of herbal medicine," Guzman said. "It's part of our 
history. When we come at Latinos, we never say, 'Smoke a joint or 
take a hit off a bong.' We talk about topicals."

Gina Koba, a 37-year-old Rowland Heights respiratory therapist, was 
deeply resistant to pot until her cousin was diagnosed with acute 
lymphocytic leukemia. Nothing helped his pain. At the time, she 
worked in a medical lab and decided - after much research - to make 
him a topical spray loaded with THC, the primary psychoactive 
ingredient in marijuana that also may have some anti-inflammatory and 
analgesic properties. She said his pain was eased. Later, she said, 
her father smoked marijuana to help his terminal cancer pain.

I met Koba on Thursday at the town hall. She was sitting at a table 
with her line of topical cannabis products, Mere Relief, which she 
markets for arthritis, tension headaches and joint pain. In 
compliance with state law, her company is a nonprofit collective. Her 
website is bilingual.

For a while, she said, she kept her interest in cannabis a secret 
from her extended family. They are traditional, conservative Latinos 
who have associated marijuana with crime and addiction and "too many 
things that have caused hardship in our community."

Yet even Koba, who has thrown herself into the brave new world of 
cannabis, is ambivalent about legalization. "I will be damned if my 
son gets high," she told me. "But once he is a good, active citizen 
and earns his stripes in the world, then he should be able to enjoy it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom