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Civil Rights Leaders Denounce Egregious Racial Disparities in Marijuana Law Enforcement

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

Denver – 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.

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