California’s branch of the NAACP has given its backing to a prominent campaign to legalize marijuana in the state – but only after securing changes to the plan.
Tech billionaire Sean Parker, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and other major figures are backing an initiative that would legalize cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana statewide. Unlike previous efforts to make marijuana legal, Parker’s has attracted the financial support of big-name national reform groups. It has been given good odds of succeeding in November.
But leaders of the California NAACP say they were left out of the process for months, and their concerns about the ballot language were so great they had to consider opposing legalization. Marijuana reform has long been an issue of central concern for civil rights groups, as racial minorities are arrested at disproportionate rates for cannabis crimes.
NAACP President: “We were not included”
“We were not included,” said California NAACP President Alice Huffman. “We were not consulted with,” and the group was so concerned about the proposal that “it became apparent to me (we) were going to have to oppose it. And that was the last thing we wanted to do.”
There are several efforts underway to legalize, but Parker’s is the only one given much of a chance to win at the ballot box. If it passes, adults over 21 would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home and to buy and possess up to 1 ounce for recreational use. Medical cannabis patients would still be allowed to possess larger amounts.
Implications on criminal justice
The plan has major implications for criminal justice and race relations in California. Roughly the same percentage of blacks and whites use marijuana, yet far more blacks are arrested and jailed for it. This reality contributes to massive social and economic problems in minority communities.
So it’s not surprising the NAACP wanted a voice in the process. They got it: After complaining about the lack of minority representation, organizers of the ballot initiative announced their endorsement of the initiative in late January. In a statement, the NAACP said it secured important changes to the plan.
Most critically, the organization was worried that the initiative would cut off “opportunities for nonviolent felons in the legalized industry (and) funds to rebuild communities affected by the war on drugs,” Huffman said.
Integrating elements of social justice
She noted that legalization is too important an issue for the NAACP to ignore, even if reformers didn’t listen initially. If reform “is going to happen, we’re going to make sure some social justice elements are in there,” she said
In the end, Huffman said, the roadblock wasn’t that Parker and his group were unwilling to listen, but rather that it was hard to get their attention. Once that happened, reformers were open to making changes, she said.
“One way to always get someone’s attention is to write down your concerns,” she said.
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