By Aruna Lee, New America Media
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Debates over whether or not to legalize marijuana have been going on for decades in California, though for many parents in the Asian community, the answer is a clear, resounding no.
Bill Tam, executive director of the Traditional Family Council, was one of dozens of Asian community leaders who spoke out against Prop. 19—the initiative to tax and regulate sales of marijuana in the state of California–during a gathering in Sunnyvale earlier this week.
Criticizing backers of the initiative, Tam said legalization would amount to an “insignificant” increase in tax revenue, while creating a “huge social problem" for the state. Supporters argue that legalizing marijuana would add to the state’s rapidly dwindling coffers at a time when milions of residents are unemployed and public services are facing drastic cuts.
Ho-bin Kim, executive director of the Korean community center in Silicon Valley, also attended the event at the Great Commissions Center in Sunnyvale. He said the passage of Prop. 19 would open the "gateway" to other drug use among youngsters. Kim stressed the inherent danger in such things as driving or operating an aircraft while under the influence of marijuana, not to mention the loss of productivity among employees, which he says would be another hit for the economy.
New polls suggest that support for the ballot measure is waning throughout the state. But a Field Poll released last summer found that support among Asians was especially weak: an overwhelming 62 percent said they opposed the measure and only 33 percent favored it.
Tam said that among Chinese voters, opposition is even stronger, with pockets of support found only among those with either no children or whose children are already well into their adult years.
“As a mother of three kids,I will absolutely not vote for Prop. 19,” said San Francisco resident Jennifer Ku. Citing a neighbor who she says can often be seen smoking the drug in view of her children, she says she’s concerned about the repercussions that the measure woudl have for them. She also pointed to concerns over a possible rise in addiction rates and crime stemming from legalization.
Korea Times editor-in-chief Nam Hong said opposition in his community stems from concerns over neighborhood safety and youth. “Despite restrictions on pot use for those under 21 years of age, children will become more exposed to the drug with legalization. What if your kid had access to marijuana?”
That fear is behind a court battle currently being waged over the proposed opening of a medical marijuana club in San Francisco's largely residential Sunset District, which is home to a large number of Asian families, churches and education-related businesses.
A report in the San Francisco Examiner quoted a father who lives in the area and runs a tutoring business on the same block as the proposed pot dispensary. “That hurts my business… They cannot have cannabis around a school area. I don’t want to take that chance."
The would-be operator of the club, who is disabled and contended that the real issue is patients’ rights, did eventually receive a permit for the dispensary, despite opposition from the district's representative on the Board of Supervisors, Carmen Chu, and the local police captain. Medical use of marijuana became legal in California after state voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, with some 24 legal dispensaries in operation in San Francisco.
Still, not all those in the Asian community are against Prop. 19.. According to the same Field Poll, younger Asians as well as those born in the U.S. are more likely to support some form of legalization. A Korean father and regular churchgoer who wants to remain anonymous says that he is adamantly opposed to the passage of Prop. 19, though he noted his two sons, both in their mid-30s and both born in this country, back the measure.
Dong-ho is a practicing Buddhist nun from Korea who moved to the Bay Area seven years ago to pursue her PhD in Buddhist studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She said that, in some cases, marijuana can be beneficial in terms of its medicinal properties. But, she added, “It all depends on how the drug is used. It can also be a poison.”