Possession of an ounce of marijuana by adults will be legal if Colorado's Amendment 44 wins. On one side are legalization activists fresh from a victory in Denver; on the other is the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, mobilizing Coloradoans to resist. The voters stand between in what may be the most important issue on this fall's ballot.
Amendment 44 is about more than marijuana: It's about civil rights and America's future.
"Yeah, the '60s are over with," the man growls, "but they forgot to tell them that up in Boulder." Or, apparently, in a good portion of Colorado. Today, hippies aren't supposed to exist; yet, look around, and there they are, the majority of whom had yet to be born when the '60s ended. I'd estimate that nationally, hippies comprise about 10 percent of the population; in Colorado, that figure is probably higher.
We tend to recite the clich that hippies no longer exist because powerful forces in America want us to think just that. They consider the counterculture a menace to Western civilization, something with no rightful place in today's America.
Well, particular drugs have always had ethnic identifications. And historically in America, if the powers-that-be wanted to persecute an ethnic group, they went after their drugs. America's first anti-drug laws, according to John Helmer's Drugs and Minority Oppression, targeted opium as a way of persecuting Chinese immigrants. In the 1930s, our first marijuana laws were imposed to harass Mexican-Americans; an Alamosa newspaper editor's pleas were made congressional testimony: "I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents." Early cocaine laws were fueled by racist stereotypes of intoxicated black men raping white women.
And today, marijuana laws are aimed primarily at the counterculture we're filling our prisons with hippies. But hippies aren't criminals: they're a people criminalized as part of a drive to, as drug warrior and former Attorney General John Mitchell put it, "take the country so far to the right you won"t recognize it."
So, it's not just hippies getting hurt; it's all of America. To the extent a society has an official pariah group, it tends to become ugly and repressive could Hitler have come to power, for instance, without widespread and institutionalized anti-Semitism?
For 40 years, America has treated hippie-Americans as illegitimate, second-class citizens. The results have been catastrophic: The Bill of Rights, particularly the Fourth Amendment, has been shredded. Often, our elections have been driven by hippie-hating, and they've been tainted by hippie-baiting (Newt Gingrich, for example, returned the GOP to Congressional power in 1996 largely by branding the Clintons "counterculture McGoverniks"). Neoconservatives blame hippies for everything from urban decay to abortion to our loss in Vietnam; when a minority is scapegoated, a nation turns from the true source of its problems and thus from solving them.
A sober look at today's counterculture, by the way, shows not an overdosed junkie but a cultural dynamo. Its contributions range from the personal computer to a thriving natural-foods industry to the Muppets to winning a slew of U.S. medals in the 2006 Winter Olympics, among many others. We stereotype hippies as losers and parasites, but like all stereotypes, this accentuates the negative, eliminates the positive and forgets Mr. In-Between. What about star entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson? What about Dr. Andrew Weil, increasingly the nation's most trusted source on health and healing?
Coloradoans will hear manipulative appeals about "protecting our children from drugs," but it's alcohol that's killing our kids; pot-is-dangerous arguments are pretexts for repression. No, not all hippies are pot smokers, and not all pot smokers are countercultural, but essentially, Amendment 44 is part of a struggle by a relatively new ethnicity, the counterculture, for social equality.
Only the most bigoted still doubt the African-American Civil Rights Movement made America a better place; ultimately, civil rights movements help societies. As part of a movement to secure the civil rights of hippie-Americans, Amendment 44 is something Colorado and this nation needs.
Paul Dougan lives in Broomfield. To learn more about ethnic-hippies theory or to contact him, go to HappilyHippie.com.