'Historical lesson' puts Chinese community against recreational pot sales

  • Members of Opt Out Northern Suburbs include many residents of Chinese or Asian descent. Because of family, education and China's history with the Opium Wars of the 1800s, Chinese residents in the suburbs are in near-unanimous disapproval of recreational marijuana sales, leaders say.

    Members of Opt Out Northern Suburbs include many residents of Chinese or Asian descent. Because of family, education and China's history with the Opium Wars of the 1800s, Chinese residents in the suburbs are in near-unanimous disapproval of recreational marijuana sales, leaders say. Courtesy of Wei Zhang

  • Members of the Opt Out Northern Suburbs movement, including many of Chinese or Asian descent, conduct a rally in Northbrook to encourage the village not to allow recreational marijuana sales. Suburban residents of Chinese backgrounds have a large presence within the efforts to prohibit recreational pot stores.

    Members of the Opt Out Northern Suburbs movement, including many of Chinese or Asian descent, conduct a rally in Northbrook to encourage the village not to allow recreational marijuana sales. Suburban residents of Chinese backgrounds have a large presence within the efforts to prohibit recreational pot stores. Courtesy of Wei Zhang

 
 
Updated 11/2/2019 4:34 PM

Asian faces make up a large part of the suburban movement to ban recreational marijuana sales, and particularly active are people of Chinese descent.

History is the reason why.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Leaders say China's history with the Opium Wars of the 1800s shapes the views of Chinese community members here when it comes to drugs. The wars between China and Britain led to an economic demise for China, which previously was the world's largest economy. It took a century to recover.

"We've been through the history in China," Buffalo Grove resident and opt out supporter Jing Ma said. "There were dark times with the opium wars. It's not a glory history."

That history, Chinese leaders in the suburbs say, makes Chinese residents view all drugs as harmful -- not only to individuals and families but also to society as a whole. Contrast that with what Americans learned about control of addictive substances through prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s.

"(Americans are) not big fans of prohibition because we know people are going to do what they're going to do," said Paul Leong, an Opt Out Naperville leader of Chinese descent who grew up in Chicago. "It's kind of the opposite for what the Chinese people experienced. Just a different cultural and historical lesson."

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That cultural perspective is why Chinese residents seem in near-unanimous agreement that recreational marijuana stores should have no place in suburban communities, Leong said.

Many Chinese residents of the suburbs have chosen their homes for the strength of their school districts or the child-friendly reputations of their communities, and that doesn't set them apart from anyone else who lives here. But their family focus also drives their opposition to the local sales of recreational pot.

"We came to Buffalo Grove because of the good school district. We just feel like if they open (recreational marijuana stores) here, the school district won't be safe and kid-friendly anymore," Ma said. "People will be scared."

Opposition to pot sales among the Chinese community doesn't come from ignorance or naiveté, Leong said. Chinese residents on the whole know marijuana is not the same as heroin, and they know possession and use will be legal statewide, no matter where sales are prohibited. They know people -- including teens -- already find black-market sellers and use marijuana illegally.

"I'm not saying that anything I'm doing is going to prevent that," Leong said, "but I would like to reduce the opportunities, especially for our students."

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