On Monday, the California State Conference of the NAACP
announced its “unconditional endorsement” of a November initiative that would
legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
On Tuesday, the NAACP said why. According to a just-released
study by the Drug Policy Alliance, blacks are far more
likely to be arrested
for pot possession than whites — even though statistically, blacks use
marijuana at lower rates than whites. The Alliance,
a national advocacy group, favors
treatment rather than arrest or imprisonment for people
suffering from drug
Meanwhile, a prominent African-American opponent of the
initiative accused the group’s leader, Alice Huffman, of selling out “to the
highest bidder” with the endorsement.
At a press conference at the California NAACP’s Sacramento
headquarters, the group’s president, Alice Huffman, portrayed marijuana laws
a means of criminalizing young black men. She was joined
by several other
African-America leaders, including Aubry Stone, president of
Black Chamber of Commerce, and Neil Franklin of the
group Law Enforcement
Against Prohibition (LEAP).
“It is time for them to stop using my community to fill
prisons,” Huffman said. “Once you get into the system, the next time you get
arrested, they bump you up [to more serious charges].”
Defendants are usually given a summons that “looks like a traffic
ticket,” the report noted. They’re not given a public defender, and usually end
up paying a fine that can add up to hundreds of dollars.
But afterwards, these
people have officially pleaded guilty to a drug offense.
This, in turn, shows
up on criminal databases and can come up years later
when, for instance, the
person applies for a job.
“For young, low-income African Americans and Latinos – who use
marijuana less than young whites, and who already face
numerous barriers and
hurdles – a criminal record for the ‘drug crime’ of marijuana possession can
seriously harm their life chances,” the report said.
The study also found that total marijuana arrests have
gone up, even
while overall crime and arrest rates have been going
down. There were more than
60,000 arrests for marijuana possession in California in
2008, according to the
report, compared to 20,000 in 1990. These arrest records come from the U.S. Government's
FBI Uniform Crime
Arrests for “youth of color” rose four times faster than that, from
3,100 in 1990 to 16,300 in
2008. The study found that
blacks and Latinos make up 44 percent of California’s population, but 56
percent of marijuana possession arrests. This was despite
the fact that whites
were slightly more likely than blacks to have had used
marijuana in the past
month; whites were about 50 percent more likely than Latinos to have used the
drug in the preceding month.
These statistics held true across California — in rural and
urban areas, and in areas with both high and low African-American populations,
compared to the state average. In
every one of California’s 25 largest counties, blacks were arrested at higher
rates than whites. Across these 25 counties, representing 90 percent of the
state’s population, blacks represent 7 percent of the population but 20 percent
of arrests for marijuana possession. In Los Angeles
County, blacks are 10
percent of the population, but represent 30 percent of marijuana arrests.
Overall, they’re arrested for pot at 332 percent of the rate of whites.
legalization initiative was put on the November ballot
by Richard Lee, the
founder of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland school
that teaches people how to
get into the medical marijuana business. On Monday,
the Secretary of State’s
Office gave it the designation of Proposition 19.
One major voice opposing Proposition 19 is Bishop Ron Allen,
the president of a group called the International Faith
Based Coalition. He said
marijuana is a gateway drug, and legalizing it would
lead to more crime and
violence in poor communities. As evidence, he pointed
to the murders last week
of two workers in separate armed robberies at medical
marijuana dispensaries in
Los Angeles. Other opponents include the state’s narcotic enforcement officers
and other law enforcement groups.
He also claimed that 60 percent of marijuana arrests are of
“These statistics are not correct,” Allen said of the Drug
Policy Alliance study.
Allen is a recovering addict himself, having moved
to crack in his early years. One of Allen’s colleagues in the cause, Elder
Jesse Williams, said his own 14 year-old son is a marijuana addict who has
robbed people at gun and knife-point, and even stolen his own mother’s car, to
satisfy his fix.
“Legalizing marijuana will never be the solution to
black arrests,” Allen said. “She knows that. It’s a smokescreen.”
He also questioned Huffman’s motives to the endorsement,
saying, “We are afraid the good name of the NAACP is being sold
to the highest
A new SurveyUSA poll
conducted back in April shows that Allen’s message isn’t resonating with
The telephone poll of 500 adults conducted found the
idea of legalizing pot leading 56 percent to 42 percent. Among African-Americans
surveyed, 67 percent supported the idea, while only 29 percent were opposed.
Fifty-nine percent of white voters supported the idea, along
with 58 percent of
Asians and only 45 percent of Hispanics.
The results were also
heavily tilted by gender and age. Men support legalizing
marijuana by a 65
percent to 32 percent margin. Women oppose the idea, 46 percent to 51 percent.
Three quarters of voters under 35 support the idea—the only age group that gave
it majority support.