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ACLU Backs Marijuana Legalization in California

The California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed a push to legalize marijuana statewide.

ACLU of CaliforniaThe ACLU of California announced in June that it is backing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), a public initiative that would make cannabis legal for recreational use. The law would create, regulate, and tax a legal marijuana industry while allowing adults over 21 to buy, possess, and use up to one ounce of pot. Californians could also grow up to four plants at home.

The endorsement came as the ACLU continues its campaign to highlight racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates. California decriminalized cannabis in 2011, downgrading possession from a misdemeanor to a civil violation, but police still arrest thousands each year – 60,000 between 2011 and 2014, according to the California Department of Justice.

Eradicating racial disparities in arrest rates

A large majority of those arrests, 70 percent, target black and Latino youths, even though those tokers use cannabis at the same rate as whites. People under age 20 account for more than 70 percent of marijuana arrests.

A recent report by the ACLU, working together with the Drug Policy Alliance, found the problem is especially bad in Los Angeles, where black people are 3.6 times more likely than whites to be cited or arrested for marijuana, and in Fresno, where blacks are four times as likely to face arrest or tickets.

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“The disastrous war on marijuana in California continues to ensnare thousands of people, particularly young people of color, in the criminal justice system every year,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, criminal justice and drug policy director with the ACLU of California. “It is time to move from prohibition to regulation. AUMA will establish a controlled and regulated market for adults, significantly reduce the harm done to young people under current marijuana laws, and generate substantial revenue for drug education and for the communities most devastated by the war on drugs.”

ACLU formed to study legalization

The California ACLU was part of a blue ribbon panel convened by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to study legalization. Newsom supports the idea and has endorsed the AUMA. The commission launched a two-year effort to educate voters and policy makers about their choices for the future of cannabis policy. The conclusions were included in a report released in 2015.

“In November, California voters will have the opportunity to get regulation right,” said Abdi Soltani, a member of the commission’s steering committee. “AUMA is a comprehensive proposal that incorporates consensus findings based on extensive research and discussion. Most importantly, it includes measures that will protect young people, maintain public safety, and establish workable taxation and regulation. This comprehensive measure lays out a strong framework for implementation.”

Leave a comment: Is the ACLU endorsement a big deal for the AUMA? Why?

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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