The sickeningly sweet and earthy smell of marijuana smoke is probably my least favorite scent in the world. For so many Yalies it’s something casual. We joke about what people did when they were high or how often people smoke, and then we forget about it, right?

It’s funny how memory works: the smell is so deeply attached to images in my head and memories I would pay to forget. But here on campus, in the safety of your dorm room or apartment, it means nothing more than a burning plant and a chemical reaction in your brain.

I see the endless deserts of Northern Mexico. I see the border. I remember the phone call one evening in March a few years ago when we were told that my cousins, living somewhere along the border at the time, had been killed. They had been shot in the chest, while their baby was left crying in the back seat of their car until someone found him. I see the health centers that women run into and are later dragged out of, dead or alive, when they run away from local gang leaders and “narcos” who want them for their own.

My options always seemed so limited. I wasn’t a voice people were excited to hear at a party. Friends stared at me blankly when I told them I hated the smell of marijuana. All I saw were burning dollar signs going straight into the hands of local dealers, and then into the pockets of men working a system that leaves blood on the hands of every individual from here to Mexico to Colombia. What stays behind, in the residual cloud of smoke, is the collateral damage.

I wanted some cold, calculated way that I could present a case against drug use, separating me from it entirely. Somehow quoting statistics and death tolls and reading my news alerts gave me credibility and people listened. I made it part of my thesis.

I wanted to ask my friends to stop smoking. No matter how good I became at paralyzing my face when people talked about their drug use, it will always be a reality for me. My cousin died when she was 22, the same age I am today. But it’s never been easy to be an activist in any field: it’s difficult to know what I could or should say, how to package it or what would make any sort of difference.

And so I have sought a quiet, internal grace — as I tell you why I don’t smoke without causing you to turn away from my words.

This is my cause. So many of us are looking for missions to push us through life, and to give meaning to our daily toil. Sometimes we take them on; sometimes they fall into our laps and inspire us through the rest of our days. When that day comes, how do you put yourself outside of the issue, so you know how to approach it in a broad discussion? When you really care about something, how do you learn to talk about it outside of the language you grew up with, outside of your memories and experiences and hopes for change?

Maybe the most important piece of this search for a “life mission” is an understanding that no part of it will be easy. It’s a journey often filled with uncertainty.

Some of my friends have left these difficult conversations with me feeling attacked — like I paint myself the victim and they the villains. Some are left speechless. It’s almost like a wall comes up between us, where their use becomes an even more private feature of their lives — as if they are protecting me. As I ask my friends to reject what has become normal, I have to be prepared for however they react.

And so if you give yourself to a mission, make a promise that you’ll keep something for yourself. Spending day after day worrying about your work and how people respond to your words is draining. You may believe wholeheartedly in what you are doing and where you are going, but that will not give you the balance and strength you need to keep fighting in the long run. Appreciate the opinions of those around you, but also carve out some space in your head where you can take a step back and consider your case.

Balance your mission with space for reflection. This is where I find grace. No one can ever take it away from you.

Diana Enriquez is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at diana.enriquez@yale.edu .

  • nomegustas

    People are not going to stop smoking cannabis, sorry. And not all cannabis comes to us through Mexican cartels. I wonder if the author realizes that a lot of the cannabis on campus is medical and comes from places like California, Maine, Massachusetts, and even Connecticut itself.

  • desch

    Ah, see I am we’ll aware of that since I spend quite a bit of time studying the drug trade. I did not pick the title used here, which unfortunately puts more emphasis on the drug part than the message I wanted to share here.

    My point being, nomegustas, that you are missing the point.

    • nomegustas

      Your point should be to push for decriminalization, which will drive down American demand for Mexican cartel cannabis. This piece doesn’t offer any solutions besides “hey, stop smoking weed.”

  • sigh…again?

    The violence of cartels is undeniable. Stories of violence, murder, and kidnappings surface on a daily basis in most states, but in all honesty this is due to the nature of drug cartels in Mexico, not usage of marijuana in the United States. I’m not saying the two are completely unrelated, but only about 20-25% of drug revenue that cartels receive comes from marijuana itself. As I’m sure you have told by many of these friends you speak of, the marijuana from New Haven is usually from either NYC, other parts of CT, or MA; as I’m sure you have responded, there is no definite way of knowing where your marijuana comes from when you’re buying by illegal means. In sum, telling your friends to stop smoking pot is sort of missing the point as well.

    Even if you manage to coax thirty people (ambitious) to stop smoking marijuana, and even if you manage to truly instill in them that smoking fuels the Mexican drug trade (unlikely), then…what? I’m sort of nonplussed that you honestly think your actions will have a bearing on the export of marijuana from Mexico, much less the horrific violence that plagues the streets. As I’m sure many people here will agree, I do believe marijuana will become legalized in much of the United States come five, ten more years. Once that happens, the amount of marijuana exported to the U.S. will decrease substantially (not completely, but still). However, there will still be drug trade in Mexico, and it will still be fierce. It will be over heroin, cocaine, and meth; marijuana is not the problem here. I know you’re not privy to that idea because you’ve focused so much time and effort here at Yale arguing exactly the opposite, but it really is not as harmful as you have told yourself.

    Best of luck with those friends who smoke that you’re trying to persuade. Chances are – since they go here – they’re brilliant, motivated, and aware of the fact that marijuana is a relatively safe and recreational drug.

  • jamesdakrn

    Except the high quality weed that Californians smoke is from California and not the shitty brick from Mexico. All the good “strains” are from growers inside the US who are not connected to the Cartels. Have you been to Humboldt County? Where there are tons of greenhouses,all legal under California law, and where patients with cards are allowed to grow up to 96 plants? Or take LA County, for example, where there are a crapton of dispensaries in street corners. “Dealers” are all but gone in California. There are just 18+ kids with medicards who may “deal” to their high school friends, but in the 18+ crowd there’s the medical weed. And when you’ve smoked medical weed, trust me you won’t ever go near the shitty Mexiweed again.

  • growitup

    Most of the weed that is smoked in the Northeast does not come from Mexican cartels. The marijuana procured by affluent youth is usually high grade and locally grown, not the low quality schwag coming out of Mexico.

    And as other people have currently stated, if marijuana were available legally it would completely eliminate the gang aspect of the business. If distributors were required to audit their suppliers, as pharmaceutical companies are required to, this would ensure only reputable growers were profiting from the sale of marijuana.

    BTW you sound like a wet blanket. What happened to your cousin sucks, but don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.

  • Guest

    I’ll leave it up to the other commenters to point out the problems with your assumptions that marijuana comes from cartels and that cartels depend on marijuana.

    The violence is a consequence of legal prohibition, not of some inherent evil stored up in the plant. The parties involved in this industry can’t use the legal non-violent mechanisms to enforce agreements, so they can only use violent means. Other industries can bring someone to court for failing to adhere to a contract, for stealing from them, or for using violence against them. But, since we deny the players in this industry access to those normal enforcement mechanisms, we leave them no option but to use violence.

    Hell, I can guarantee that any other industry would do the same. If Apple couldn’t sue the companies they thought were infringing on their patents, you can bet they’d turn to violence. If, upon shipment of a million dollars of ANY product, the buyer didn’t pay up, and the seller could never bring non-paying buyers to court, their only option would be violence.

    Honestly, this really shouldn’t be that hard to wrap your mind around, especially when you’re putting the effort into writing an op-ed. I’m disappointed with how little thought you’ve put into your opinions on this issue. Don’t take advantage of your cousin’s death to try and justify your close-mindedness. The least you owe her is to spend more than thirty seconds thinking about who or what is REALLY responsible for her death.

    • terryhughes

      This comment is almost unbelievably insensitive and off track. Of course marijuana prohibition increases criminal involvement. But those who buy marijuana are, in fact, buying it during that prohibition and are, in fact, sending money to the cartels. Unless and until the legal structure changes, those who purchase this drug are financing monstrous violence. It’s a fact. Get over it.

      Nobody knows for sure how much money goes to the cartels, although some well informed studies have found that Mexico probably provides about 2/3 of the marijuana consumed in the US.

      Marijuana is just one of the drugs that the cartels traffic. But cannabis is a cash crop that provides huge profits to criminal armies, paying for assassins and guns south of the Rio Grande. The scale of the Mexican marijuana business was illustrated by a mammoth 120-hectare plantation busted last year in Baja California. It had a sophisticated irrigation system, sleeping quarters for 60 workers and could produce 120 metric tons of cannabis per harvest.

      Again, nobody knows exactly how much the whole Mexico-U.S. marijuana trade is worth, with estimates ranging from $2 billion to $20 billion annually. But even if you believe the lowest numbers, marijuana sales provide billions of dollars a year away to organized crime.

      It is also argued that Mexican gangsters have expanded to a portfolio of crimes that includes kidnapping, extortion, human smuggling and theft from oil pipelines. There have been a tragic 60,000 killings under President Felipe Calderón that are described as drug-related. This is a terrifying truth. But this does not take away from the fact that the marijuana trade provides the crime groups with major resources. That they are committing crimes such as kidnapping, which have a horrific effect on innocent people, makes cutting off their financing all the more urgent. Private purchases in the US are the major source of that financing.

      • jamesdakrn

        >But those who buy marijuana are, in fact, buying it during that prohibition and are, in fact, sending money to the cartels

        Please do tell me how you would send money to the cartels with Medical Marijuana.

        • terryhughes

          As a preliminary matter, this question reflects a deliberate dodge of the main issue: Prohibition does not absolve a marijuana purchaser or user from responsibility, contrary to what has been insinuated in these comments..

          That being saind, the conceit that those who buy only “high end” marijuana or “medical marijuana” do not contribute to the problem of cartel violence is a masterful exercise in intellectual dishonesty on many levels. At the most basic level there is the simple question of knowledge: In general ones knowledge of marijuana origin is limited to the representations of the seller, and there is no reason to think such representations are accurate. Mexico produces lots of top quality marijuana even if most Mexican produce is down scale. One might also point out that the domestic distribution systems of “upscale” and “downscale” marijuana are not hermetically separated from each other. The EXTENT of the overlap of the two networks is not an excuse. It is darkly risible that many “upscale’ marijuana users relying on this phony argument require less reliable assurance that their purchases of marijuana do not contribute to the hideous deaths of people than they do that their purchases of canned tuna does not contribute to the hideous deaths of dolphins, as also suggested here: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=i+don't+know+where+they+come+down+von+braun&mid=63645C0841E4B01B90CA63645C0841E4B01B90CA&view=detail&FORM=VIRE2

          On a completely separate level there is the obvious fact that “upscale” users of marijuana set a tone of acceptance for “downscale” users. It is grotesque that those who strain to be cultural and socials ‘leaders” by association with institutions such as Yale and otherwise should be allowed (or allow themselves) to ignore their own success.
          And, again, prohibition is not an excuse.

  • Youssef Ismail

    Unless you support ending our asinine war on marijuana you share responsibility for the death and destruction caused by the black market. Leglaize, regulate, and tax. STOP FUNDING THE CARTELS!

  • Goldie ’08

    Drugs are bad, mmkay?

  • jake

    you do realize that by legalizing marijuana in the U.S the cartels in Mexico will be hit HARD and we will have more money and time to put into the prevention of drugs that actually matter?

  • irrenmann

    Being friends with people who do drugs is compromising your personal ethics, and you should stop it. The phrasing at the beginning of this article reinforces the idea that drug use is some casual thing that is going to be put up with, even though it obviously bothers you. Just stop. Don’t allow wrong into your life.