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State NAACP backs marijuana legalization initiative

June 28, 2010 | 12:24 pm

Saying that prohibition takes a heavy toll on minorities, leaders of the NAACP's California chapter announced Monday that they are backing passage of a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot.

The war on drugs is a failure and disproportionately targets young men and women of color, particularly African-American males, said Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP's state conference.

The group cited statistics from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice showing that in 2009, 62% of the state's marijuana arrests were of nonwhite suspects and that 42% were under 20.

The pattern was consistent in the state's 25 largest counties, with arrests of African Americans at double, triple and quadruple the rate of whites even though studies show that blacks use marijuana at lower rates than whites, NAACP officials said.

"We are joining a growing number of medical professionals, labor organizations, law enforcement authorities, local municipalities and approximately 56% of the public in saying that it is time to decriminalize the use of marijuana," Huffman said in a prepared statement.

November's measure, if approved, would allow people 21 and older to legally possess an ounce of cannabis. Marijuana sales would be taxed, potentially raising billions of dollars for government services. Opponents say legalization would increase crime and drug dependency.

-- Catherine Saillant