LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The California affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union today announced their endorsement of Proposition 19, the initiative on the November 2010 ballot that would allow state regulation 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. Proposition 19 would allow adults age 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of their own marijuana for personal use, and would allow cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial sales. Unless individual cities and counties enact local regulatory structures, marijuana sale would remain illegal under state law.
The three California affiliates of the ACLU have 96,000 members combined and join a broad coalition supporting Proposition 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 law enforcement officials from around the state.
In 2008, California police made 60,000 marijuana possession arrests, the majority of them young men of color. The arrests, however, do not indicate actual marijuana usage. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) reveals 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. These arrests overload our already stressed courts and jails and divert scarce public safety dollars that could be used to address violent crime,” said Kelli M. Evans, associate director at the ACLU of Northern California.
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office cites that Proposition 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. The impact of a misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession creates barriers in finding a house, a job, and even a school loan,” said Ramona Ripston, ACLU/SC executive director.
In Los Angeles County alone, the marijuana possession arrest rate of African Americans is more than 300% higher than the same arrest rate of whites, although blacks made up less than 10% 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.