Civil Rights Leaders Denounce Egregious Racial Disparities in Marijuana Law Enforcement at the Historic Five Points Intersection in East Denver

Colorado/Wyoming/Montana NAACP Joins Effort to Pass Amendment 6

DENVER–(ENEWSPF)–August 23, 2012.  The NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Area Conference has endorsed Amendment 64, the campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol. This endorsement is the third of its kind. The NAACP California State Conference endorsed a similar measure in 2010, and the NAACP Alaska Oregon Washington State Area Conference recently endorsed an Oregon legalization effort.  

The NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Area Conference will join the Drug Policy Alliance, the Amendment 64 campaign and longtime social justice advocate Jessie Ulibarri to announce this critical endorsement.

The latest Rasmussen polling numbers show that 61 percent of likely Colorado voters favor regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.

The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites.

“The failed war on drugs has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color,” said  Rosemary Harris Lytle, State Conference President. “With this endorsement, NAACP activists in Colorado take a significant step:  calling for equity, justice and more effective policy — such as the proposal to regulate marijuana like alcohol in our state.The flawed drug policies that so negatively impact our communities must be replaced with policy that is not disproportionately punitive based on race but that helps us get to the root causes of drug use and abuse in America.”

In Colorado, just 4 percent of the state’s population is African American, yet this group accounts for 20 percent of the state’s prison population. An astounding 69 percent of those behind bars for a drug law violation in the state are people of color.  In Denver, one-third of the people arrested for marijuana possession are African-American though African-Americans comprise merely one-tenth of the city’s population. Similar disparities exist in El Paso and Arapahoe Counties.

“Ending marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a sensible regulatory system that redirects law enforcement to matters of genuine public safety is an increasingly urgent priority for racial justice advocates and should be for all Coloradans,”  said Art Way, senior drug policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office.

Advocates hope many more within the social and racial justice communities will see this issue as one they can no longer ignore.  The desired outcome is for the broader progressive community to view this as a civil rights issue because of the selective enforcement evident in prohibition.  The collateral consequences many face due to simple possession laws concerning housing, education, employment and the right to vote are excessive and another burden for those who already have much to overcome.  

“As a parent, I’m confident public education and honest dialogue is what is most needed concerning the possible harms of marijuana. We should not forge ahead with the same failed drug policies witnessed for decades that have caused so much damage in our communities,” said Jessie Ulibarri, local social justice advocate.  “I am a proud member of the NAACP, and I support Amendment 64 with the understanding that this is a crucial step forward to untangle a complicated policy mess that has unfairly impacted African American, Latino and poor communities.” Ulibarri continues. 

A Colorado ballot initiative to legalize limited possession of marijuana for adults is set to pick up an endorsement from a civil rights organization Thursday.

At a morning press event, the head of the Colorado, Wyoming and Montana conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is expected to announce the conference’s support for the initiative, Amendment 64. The conference’s president, Rosemary Harris Lytle, said Wednesday the endorsement comes not out of an interest in marijuana use but instead from a concern over the lopsided numbers of African-Americans arrested for marijuana offenses.

“In ending the prohibition against adult use of marijuana we might affect mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on African-Americans and other people of color,” Harris Lytle said.

In 2010, African-Americans accounted for roughly 9 percent of all arrests for marijuana possession in Colorado and 22 percent of arrests for marijuana sales or cultivation, according to figures advocates pulled from FBI data. African-Americans made up about 4 percent of the Colorado population that year.

The local NAACP endorsement follows a similar endorsement by the California NAACP of a marijuana-legalization measure there in 2010. And it is in line with the national NAACP’s stance against the drug war.

“The realization is that drug laws have been disproportionately enforced against communities of color,” said Niaz Kasravi, the national NAACP’s criminal justice director.

Adams County District Attorney Don Quick, who opposes the initiative, agreed that African-Americans are over-represented in the criminal justice system.

“There’s no denying it and that’s wrong,” Quick said. “But the answer to that isn’t to make marijuana more available in the community.”

Quick said a proliferation of marijuana among adults will trickle down to kids, resulting in lower graduation rates and more discipline problems.

Quick said Colorado Department of Corrections figures show that people imprisoned for marijuana crimes make up about 1 percent of inmates.

The Weld County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday passed a resolution opposing the initiative.

Related Article:

Denver Post, ‘Colorado marijuana initiative gets NAACP endorsement,’ John Ingold, August 23, 2012