In April, we told you about the Respect State Rights Marijuana Act of 2013, which calls on the federal government to respect state marijuana laws. Among the original co-sponsors: Colorado Representative Jared Polis.
Since then, the legislation has made little progress, but it's just gotten a boost. The NAACP has passed a resolution in support of the measure, and Rosemary Lytle, president of the Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference, explains why it's a priority.
"We at the NAACP have a historic hesitancy about states' right causes," Lytle acknowledges, and no wonder, since this particular argument has been advanced throughout the nation's history to enslave or discriminate against people of color. "But in this case, we fully support the legislative effort for all the reasons outlined in the resolution."
The document's text, seen below in its entirety, notes that "more than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities" and "two-thirds of all persons in prison today for drug offenses are people of color." And Lytle adds some statistics from a study created by the 2012 campaign supporting Amendment 64, which allowed adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.
"Around 35 percent of marijuana arrests in Colorado were of African-Americans and Latinos," she notes, "even though African-Americans only make up about 4 percent of the population and Latinos are about 19 percent. So that number is hugely and egregiously disproportionate when you look at the overall population, and shows the impact of a failed and flawed drug policy. You don't have to look far. It's in our own backyard."
Graphics from the study, entitled "Marijuana Possession Arrests in Colorado 1986-2010" (we've included it below, as well), illustrate Lytle's point. The first depicts marijuana possession arrest rates of whites, Latinos and blacks in Colorado....
...while the second juxtaposes the percentage of blacks and Latinos in Colorado's population with the percentage of blacks and Latinos arrested in the state for marijuana possession:
Figures like these helped convince the Colorado Montana Wyoming state conference to support Amendment 64 by a state leaders' vote of 75-4. And attending the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last month only reinforced Lytle's view that this was the right move. At one session, she recalls, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "said something I'll never forget. He said there are some people who love drugs, some people who hate drugs, some people who never think about drugs, but there's one thing for sure: No other country in the world incarcerates more people, and especially more black folks, because of drugs.
"That's why this is important. This resolution just fits with where I see my head and my heart as I think about social justice and the idea of a drug policy that supports people."
As such, she's eager to answer the national organization's "call to action for state conferences to talk with our congressional delegations" about the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 -- "marching orders as foot soldiers in the movement to speak out and convince them to support it."
Continue to read the NAACP resolution, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 and a study of marijuana possession arrests in Colorado from 1986 to 2010.
NAACP SUPPORTS ALLOWING STATES TO DECREASE PENALTIES FOR LOW-LEVEL DRUG POSSESSION
WHEREAS, as a result of the "War on Drugs" and mandatory minimum sentences imposed largely at the federal level, the prison population has exploded in the past few decades; and
WHEREAS, one crucial result of these misguided and misplaced policies has been the disproportionate over-confinement of racial and ethnic minorities: more than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities; and
WHEREAS, two-thirds of all persons in prison today for drug offenses are people of color; and
WHEREAS, more than 700,000 people annually are arrested in the United States for the possession of marijuana; and
WHEREAS, even though numerous studies demonstrate that whites and African Americans use and sell marijuana at relatively the same rates, studies also demonstrate that African Americans are, on average, almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some jurisdictions Blacks are 30 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites; and
WHEREAS, there are also extreme economic consequences to the present day enforcement of marijuana laws; nationally, states spent an estimated $3.61 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone; money that could be spent on education, job training, and other valuable services; and
WHEREAS, several states throughout the U.S. have departed from current federal law to develop more well-tailored and effective guidelines and sentencing ranges for small, low-level marijuana use which are moderating some of the more extreme federal policies and their repercussions; and
WHEREAS, these state laws are at times at odds with federal laws; and
WHEREAS, legislation has been introduced in the 113th Congress, H.R. 1523, with strong bipartisan support, which would prohibit the federal enforcement of marijuana laws in states which have lesser penalties.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP supports H.R. 1523 and encourages its swift enactment; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the NAACP Washington Bureau shall contact Members of the Congress and urge the swift enactment of H.R. 1523.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: Inside the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, part one."