Originally published in Minero Magazine January 23, 2015
By Jose Soto
The descending sun is obscured behind the thickening, rising cloud of smoke coming from the inch-long joint of paper and plant. It sways languidly toward the ceiling, leaving behind its sweet and floral scent. In the distance, the hastening cars from the five o’clock commute give the city a fast-paced rhythm. Perhaps some are headed home. Perhaps others are franticly heading toward their favorite local watering hole. It is not uncommon for Americans to find some way to unwind from the demands and expectations of adulthood. Here, however, the bottle caps aren’t being popped off. Instead, a flicker ignites a miniature fire.
Just like many, Danny “Kike” Perez prefers to indulge in a cannabis-inhaling session after a stressful day at work. He is an extremely preoccupied man–in between business meetings; crunching numbers, attending various gatherings from the numerous social causes he belongs to. He wouldn’t necessarily fit the stereotypical profile that some might associate with a marijuana smoker. “That is definitely an unfair fallacy,” Perez says. “Everyone thinks that ‘stoners’ are undereducated people, who still live in their mothers’ basements and get high all day.”
Perez, in fact, is the opposite of that stereotype. He holds a business degree and runs a high-profile business in town. He also is extremely active with many organizations, including immigration reform, and is highly involved in the community. “Most of the marijuana smokers I know are actually active members of society,” Perez says.
Perez is also a member of the organization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML, which is striving to make life as ordinary as possible for individuals who opt to smoke marijuana. He says NORML is trying to advocate for modest and appropriate laws that will decriminalize marijuana smoking. “The laws in place today are simply unfair and unfit for what marijuana smoking actually is,” Perez says. “There are many unjust consequences for being caught with marijuana. A college student can see their financial aid and whole college career go down the drain simply for being caught with a joint. Or someone, like a friend of mine who has Crohn’s disease, can be absurdly fined for growing the plant when they medicinally need it for health issues. These implications can’t hold ground any longer.”
Josh Dagda is one of the founders of the NORML chapter in El Paso and he is also their communication director. He sits on a chair on his porch, and the table in front of him holds an overflowing ashtray. He says that some of his roommates are active marijuana smokers, as well as college students. He says his own use of marijuana is decreasing. “Even then, everyone that I’ve met that smokes marijuana are all such intelligent individuals with so much depth,” Dagda says.
Dagda also says that his experiences with marijuana have never been negative. “That’s precisely why we advocate for marijuana legalization and appropriate law changes. It’s not right to criminalize individuals for conducting themselves as functional civilians while smoking pot,” Dadga says.
Perez says NORML wants to change the mindset of the general public in regards to marijuana smoking. “There are many benefits to smoking marijuana. It’s less detrimental than alcohol; it has positive effects on many sick and suffering individuals. It doesn’t create violent and harmful environments like many others do,” Perez says.
Farshied Farrokhnia, a senior organizational communication major at UTEP, says he has been actively smoking since the age of 14. Besides being a full-time student, Farshied is also a member of a band, where he plays the drums and is a recreational photographer and film enthusiast. “It really is up to the individual whether they want to be productive after smoking or not,” Farrokhnia says. “I categorize marijuana under the same classification as coffee, it influences you and has no harmful effects if moderately taken. It takes a responsible person to not get too high. I feel as if I want to be more productive when I smoke.”
He has been in El Paso and enrolled at UTEP since 2009 when he moved here from California. Farrokhnia says, “I’m not condoning any form of drug usage, though, they’re all entirely different than marijuana. Still, when it comes to marijuana, the ideology tends to be very old-fashioned and narrow-minded.”
Farrokhnia is of Iranian descent. His mother was born in Mexico and met his father when he moved there from Iran in 1979. “In Iran, you can be hanged for smoking marijuana,” Farrokhnia says. “Here, you get jail time and so many other implications. They’re extremely different measures, but both are unjust. As a student, it’s unfair to think of the penalties you can face, like losing your financial aid and even being suspended from the institution. That’s even more unfair is the costs at a greater scale, jail time and ridiculous fines. And over what? A joint?”
Like Farrokhnia, many students, businessmen and women and others who smoke marijuana look forward to the day when the law will rightfully allow them to be recreational users without the severe punishment they currently face in the state of Texas.
“It’s very much like coming out of the dark. In the ‘50s, we saw a black civil rights movement. In the ‘60s, many social rights were demanded. We’ve seen a social rise for gay rights in the last couple of years. Right now, there is a marijuana civil rights movement going on,” Perez says. “We want to practice what we do openly and freely, without having to be ridiculed and punished, like abiding, civil people. Now is the time for change.”