Tag Archives: Proposition 19

Prop 19 was only the beginning…

By Allen Hopper, ACLU of Northern California

California voters came out in droves to support Proposition 19 this November. More than 4.1 million people voted for Prop. 19, which would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use and allow cities and counties to tax and regulate commercial sales. That’s more votes than Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina garnered. Though the measure didn’t pass, the degree of support marks an undeniable leap forward in the movement to end marijuana prohibition. In the end, Prop. 19 achieved a higher percentage of “yes” votes (46%) than any state-level legalization measure on the ballot over the past decade.  

This is clearly only the beginning of a new, more rational public discussion about marijuana. It’s no longer a question of whether marijuana prohibition should end, but rather when and how. Post-election polling data shows that many voters who rejected Prop. 19 nonetheless believe that marijuana should be made legal. Even the leaders of the opposition to Prop. 19 publicly stated that they are not opposed to marijuana legalization, “if it’s done the right way.”  

There is already talk about another initiative on the California ballot in 2012, and California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has pledged to introduce a new statewide tax and regulate bill. And California is not alone in its efforts. Several other states are likely to have legalization or decriminalization on the ballot in the near future, including Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada. What we know is that it is clear that states do indeed have the right to decide for themselves whether or not to keep state marijuana prohibition laws on the books.  

The war on drugs has failed, and people are ready for a change. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. One in every 31 adults is on probation, in jail or in prison. FBI figures show that over 800,000 people in the U.S. are arrested for marijuana offenses each year. The vast majority of these arrests are for low-level, nonviolent simple possession offenses. Drug law enforcement in the United States is a driving force behind some of the worst aspects of our flawed criminal justice system, including tragic racial disparities. People of color are arrested at far higher rates than whites for marijuana offenses, even though rates of drug use are equal across racial lines.  According to the Prison Policy Initiative, we incarcerate black men in the United States today at rates more than five times higher than in South Africa during apartheid.  

The public is taking notice that ending marijuana prohibition will ease our overwhelmed state and local budgets, and will free up law enforcement resources to address serious and violent crime.

Despite the disappointing outcome, Prop. 19 was a giant step in the right direction. Let’s keep the discussion going.    

Allen Hopper is the Police Practices Director at the ACLU of Northern California.

Moving Towards Rational Marijuana Policy: California ACLU Affiliates Endorse Prop 19

By Kelli M. Evans

Every year tens of thousands of people in California are arrested for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana. These arrests overload our already stressed courts and jails. They also divert scarce public safety dollars that could be used to address violent crime. California’s Proposition 19, on the November 2010 ballot, offers a remedy that will move marijuana policy in a direction that makes sense.  The California Legislative Analyst’s Office explains that the passage of Proposition 19 would allow redirection of court and law enforcement resources to solving violent crimes.

The ballot measure 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. Similarly, driving while intoxicated will remain against the law, and employers will retain the right to regulate drug use on the job.

Proposition 19 has a growing coalition of support. The three California affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union recently announced their endorsement of the initiative and join a broad coalition of this common sense approach to controlling marijuana, including former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, the California NAACP, labor unions, and law enforcement officials from around the state.

Enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws consumes California’s police and court system resources, and has a devastating disproportionate impact on communities of color. In 2008 alone, California police made 60,000 marijuana possession arrests, the majority of them young men of color. The arrests don’t indicate actual marijuana usage. A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance 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. Other reports, including a study out of Seattle, show that whites sell drugs at similar – and possibly higher – rates than African Americans.

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.

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 to finding a house, a job, and even a school loan.

We need a solution that will work.  By regulating and taxing marijuana for adults, Proposition 19 is a step in the right direction.

Kelli M. Evans is Associate Director at the ACLU of Northern California