In what drug policy reform advocates are calling a “landmark moment”, the California NAACP announced its support yesterday for Proposition 19, a controversial ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in the state.
The group stood with leaders from the California Black Chamber of Commerce and cited a recently released study (PDF) from the Drug Policy Alliance that showed that in nearly every California county, Black youth are arrested for marijuana-related offenses more often that white youth, even though they use marijuana less often.
Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP’s California branch, called it a “civil rights issue” that’s consistently stifled the upward mobility of young folks of color:
“This is not a war on the drug lords, this is a war against young men and women of color,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday. “Once a young person is arrested and brought under the justice system, he or she is more likely to get caught in the criminal justice system again, further wasting tax dollars.”
And the stats cited by the Drug Policy Alliance backed up her claims. On the whole, arrests for marijuana procession in California have increased over 100 percent over the past 20 years, while arrests for violent crime have dropped over 60 percent.
The Chronicle cited the following findings:
• In every one of the 25 largest counties in California, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at double, triple, and sometimes quadruple the rates of whites. In Los Angeles County, the arrest rate for Blacks is 332 percent higher than the rate for whites, and though Black people constitute less than 10 percent of the state population.
• Federal government studies have consistently shown that Black youth use marijuana at lower rates than whites.
Marijuana arrests often lead to permanent drug records, which can easily be searched by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks. And even once the accused get to court, they often don’t know they’re being charged with misdemeanor drug crimes because the court summons look like traffic tickets and they aren’t required to meet with a public defender.
The latest LA Times poll taken back in May, showed that 49 percent of Californians support marijuana legislation, while 41 percent oppose it. While the state’s last effort to legalize weed failed spectacularly 38 years ago, advocates are hopeful the current fiscal crisis will finally push the measure over the edge. This week a Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report concluded that local governments could gain as much as $7.5 million by taxing marijuana sells.
Earlier this spring, I helped cover the issue with folks from Youth Outlook, a San Francisco-based youth media organization. Once concern weed reform advocates had was the potential impact taxation could have on smaller pot growers, who’ve been locked out of the state’s formal job market. But all in all, folks think it’s about time.