Brown students are generally very socially conscious, as far as college-age students go. We protest sweatshop labor, the lack of government transparency, funding for unethical projects and the lack of funding for ethical projects. We encourage the purchasing and consuming of locally grown, organic and ethically produced goods. We question the reasons why we act the way we do, from wearing leggings in the winter to wearing hipster glasses and listening to Lady Gaga.
But why do we not ever have open conversations about the sociopolitical issues surrounding drug use? Why do we fail to connect foreign wars with our own habits as individuals?
With 4/20 coming up, I am concerned that many students fail to see the connection between the purchase and consumption of illegal drugs on college campuses and the violence and chaos in many parts of the world. Gang warfare surrounding drugs exists not only in Mexico and Colombia, but also in urban California, New York and most of the southern United States, to name but a handful of locations. To top it off, most of the money is coming from the United States, where consumption is most prevalent — illicit drug sales rein in $13.6 to $48.8 billion each year, and these are earnings for Mexico alone.
But the price we pay is much steeper. Swallow this figure if you can — in Mexico, over 10,000 people died in drug-war-related incidents between January 2007 and June 2009. By the end of 2010, this number had risen to over 30,000 casualties. Let me say that again — over 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence since I first stepped onto campus as a first-year in 2007. This semester alone, another 5,000 have been added to the death toll, making this figure a heart-wrenching 35,000. Every time I go home, I have to hear another story about a mass grave or a bus hijacking. I cannot help but connect it to what I see happening daily on my own beloved college campus, and it breaks my heart.
How many times have you or your friends smoked weed while you have been at school? One, three, perhaps 30? Are you looking forward to 4/20? Even if you are the kind of person who tries to steer clear of pot, you have probably known, interacted with or even lived with people who consume drugs frequently. I get it. Being in college in the United States is synonymous with getting drunk, getting high and partying on weekends.
Nonetheless, whenever I have pointed out to friends and acquaintances that such unthinking debauchery is killing thousands of people in my home country — nay, killing tens of thousands of citizens of our shared world — they wave me off as a mood killer, as if getting high at the expense of other people’s lives were a God-given right, or as if it were solely the government’s responsibility to legalize drugs in response. I’ll be honest — when people light up a joint around me, I get very upset. Why, I ask you, shouldn’t I be? Until both the United States and Mexico get their pants on straight, every dollar you give to your dealer is a dollar that is fueling the drug war.
I need to make this point clear — I am not against people doing what they like with their own bodies, as long as it is not harming anyone else. I acknowledge that marijuana is fairly harmless, as far as drugs go. I will even acknowledge that it is a lot of fun and that people should be allowed to smoke it legally. The problem, in this case, is that smoking marijuana in this country is harming someone else. In fact, it is killing people.
Of course, the governments involved in this case are both at fault. I do think one of the viable solutions to this problem is legalization, and I recognize the significance of 4/20 as a day of protest. Nonetheless, the sheer amount of money that gets poured into the illegal drug market at this time of year probably fuels a large majority of the violence that is required to keep the operation going. Getting those illegal substances into that little plastic bag in your sock drawer costs money — which is being used to buy guns and shoot police and civilians. It is money that is kindling tragic and inexcusable bloodshed.
Even if you are sure that your weed or cocaine originated locally, you should still be concerned about this problem, as it is relevant to the counterculture community to which you belong. Have conversations with your friends about this. If you wanted to get high on 4/20 this year, plan something else. Maybe you can start a movement and have a 4/20 abstinence party. You can still have fun and still make a point of asking the government to legalize marijuana. Stick it to the man. Just please, dear reader, do not do it at the expense of other people’s lives. Your Mexican brethren will thank you, starting with myself.
Sofia Ortiz-Hinojosa ’11 is a philosophy and classics concentrator from Monterrey, Mexico. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.