California NAACP Backs Marijuana Ballot Measure

Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 2010

The California NAACP has endorsed a November ballot measure to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana, calling the measure a civil rights issue because blacks have a disproportionate number of arrests for marijuana possession compared with whites.

Accompanied by other African American leaders in California, the president of the state NAACP, Alice Huffman, said the current prohibition on marijuana has led to the criminalizing of young people and consequently has hampered the ability of many African Americans to prosper.

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“This is not a war on the drug lords, this is a war against young men and women of color,” Huffman said, adding later that, “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.”

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In announcing support, African American leaders pointed to a report that shows that in the 25 largest counties in California, blacks are arrested for possession of marijuana at rates that are as much as four times as high as those for white people. Those arrested are overwhelmingly young men.

Black people 18 to 25 years old use marijuana less frequently than whites, according to federal data in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The report was written by Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College at the City University of New York, who has researched similar trends in New York City. It was released by the Drug Policy Alliance, which is backing the ballot measure.

“In a nutshell, the police are assigned heavily to patrol only in certain neighborhoods and in those neighborhoods they are looking for certain suspects who are young, who are male,” Levine said, adding that police would make more arrests for marijuana possession if they focused on areas with higher concentrations of whites.

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But the support is not shared throughout that community, as many black religious leaders are in opposition.

Bishop Ron Allen, leader of the International Faith Based Coalition and a member of the coalition opposing Prop. 19, said he was “shocked, stunned and surprised” by the endorsement and said it is not a civil rights issue.

“If anyone should know what illicit drugs will do to an underserved community, we expect our civil rights leaders to have a better understanding than anyone else,” he said.

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