With the election less than a week away, I keep finding myself in discussions about the ACLU's support for Proposition 19--a proposition on California's November ballot that would, among other things, decriminalize personal use and possession of marijuana. When I explain that one of the primary reasons we support Prop 19 derives from our aim to end the disparate impact marijuana laws have on African-Americans and Latinos, people suggest that the recent passage of S.B. 1449 in California - which reduced simple possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction - should quelch our concerns about the impact the failed War on Drugs has had on communities of color. As a result, time and again I'm asked whether S.B. 1449 makes Prop. 19 unnecessary.
Unfortunately for the young African-American and Latino men who are most affected by the unbalanced enforcement of our drug laws, this simply isn't so. And even the No on Prop. 19 campaign agrees. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to moderate a debate at Loyola Law School between Stephen Gutwillig, the California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance ("DPA") who argued in support of Prop 19, and John Redman, a representative of No on 19. When I asked Mr. Redman whether S.B. 1449 would end the disparate impact marijuana laws have on people of color, he admitted it would not.
That's because there's no evidence that changing the crime of marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction will change the double standard of enforcement that so negatively impacts people of color. In fact, S.B. 1449 makes it even easier for officers to ensnare young African-Americans and Latinos in the criminal justice system disproportionately by issuing citations to them. The drug laws so unfairly impact Latinos--as outlined in a