Marijuana: Amendment 64 is a social-justice issue, says NAACP

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"Our conference actually voted to endorse Amendment 64 at our meeting on April 21 in Pueblo," Harris Lytle says, "and since then, we've been working to educate ourselves about the so-called war on drugs before our official endorsement today.

"Why are we doing it?" she asks. "Not to fight for the perceived quote-unquote right to smoke marijuana. Instead, we're endorsing Amendment 64 because we believe that in ending the prohibition against adult use of marijuana, we might impact the mass incarceration and disproportionate impact of drug policy on communities of color in Colorado -- specifically African American and Latino communities, and even more specifically, African American men. We're convinced this is a civil-rights issue, and the right thing for the state conference to do."

Over the past several months, Harris Lytle goes on, NAACP representatives have "looked at data from the FBI. Now, we know that African Americans account for less than 4.5 percent of the population in Colorado -- but African Americans account for nearly 9 percent of marijuana possession arrests and 22 percent of arrests for marijuana sales and marijuana cultivation. And the disparity is even more obvious in Denver. African Americans account for less than 15 percent of the population in Denver, but account for more than 30 percent of marijuana arrests. So we see Amendment 64 as one way to end an unfair and damaging system of marijuana prohibition and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated in the same way that alcohol is regulated" -- one that allows adult use but restricts access to children.

Harris Lytle notes that the endorsement is very much in keeping with the policies of NAACP nationally. "This failed drug war is primarily waged against African Americans and Latinos. Those populations suffer the harshest consequences. People of color are much more likely to be searched, much more likely to be arrested, much more likely to be prosecuted, much more likely to be convicted, and much more likely to be incarcerated for a drug-related offense than non-African Americans or Latinos."

Continue reading about the local NAACP conference's endorsement of Amendment 64.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts