California ACLU Endorses Pot Legalization Measure
The California affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union announced Friday their endorsement of Proposition 19, the initiative on the November 2010 ballot to allow state regulation and taxation of marijuana.
Enforcement of marijuana prohibition consumes a great deal of California’s law enforcement and court system resources, and has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, according to the ACLU.
Unless individual cities and counties enact local regulatory structures, marijuana sales would remain illegal under state law.
The three California affiliates of the ACLU have a combined 96,000 members and join a broad coalition supporting Prop 19′s common sense approach to controlling marijuana.
Supporters of the initiative include former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, the California NAACP, labor unions, and even some law enforcement officials from around the state.
California police made 60,000 marijuana arrests in 2008, m0st of them y0ung men of color. The arrests, however, do not indicate actual marijuana usage.
A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) shows distinct racial disparities in California arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Data in the report reveal that African Americans in California are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, but more white youth use marijuana than black youth.
“California makes tens of thousands of arrests each year for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana,” said Kelli M. Evans, associate director of ACLU of Northern California. “These arrests overload our already stressed courts and jails and divert scarce public safety dollars that could be used to address violent crime.”
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office said Prop 19 would allow “redirection of court and law enforcement resources to solving violent crimes.”
“The significant racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests have serious consequences, for young men of color in particular,” said Ramona Ripston, executive director at the ACLU of Southern California. “The impact of a misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession creates barriers in finding a house, a job, and even a sch0ol loan.”
In Los Angeles County alone, the marijuana possession arrest rate of African Americans is more than 300 percent higher than the same arrest rate of whites, with blacks making up less than 10 percent of the county’s population, according to the DPA report.
“Proposition 19 is smart policy that would regulate and tax marijuana for adults, just like alcohol and tobacco,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
Steve Elliott, a working journalist since 1982, is editor of Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media’s site of cannabis news, views, rumor and humor.