Amendment 64, Colorado's ballot measure that seeks the legalization of marijuana for adult use and regulation of the drug similar to that of alcohol, is picking up a new endorsement from the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Denver Post reports that at a Thursday morning conference, the NAACP's Colorado-Wyoming-Montana local branch is expected to announce its support of Amendment 64, not because the group necessarily favors marijuana use, but because members say current marijuana laws lead to a disproportionately high number of people of color being incarcerated or otherwise negatively affected.
"Marijuana prohibition policy does more harm to our communities than good," said Rosemary Harris Lytle in a statement, president of the NAACP-Colorado-Montana-Wyoming State Conference. "That is why we have endorsed Amendment 64 which presents a more effective and socially responsible approach to how Colorado addresses the adult use of marijuana."
The NAACP provided this data in a press statement about marijuana arrests in Colorado:
African-Americans made up roughly 4% of the population in Colorado in 2010, but they accounted for about 9% of marijuana possession arrests and 22% of arrests for marijuana sales and cultivation. The numbers in Denver are particularly staggering. According to a report prepared by the Denver Police Department for the the city's Marijuana Policy Review Panel, African-Americans accounted for more than 31.5% percent of arrests for private adult marijuana possession, despite making up less than 11% of the city's population.
Colorado, Washington and Oregon all have marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot this November and earlier this month, a local NAACP group already endorsed the Oregon measure, according to Oregon Live.
"Our nation's long, tragic, failed war on drugs had taken a disproportionate toll on people of color," Oscar Eason, Jr., president of the NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State local conference said in a statement about the Oregon ballot measure. "We need to end the drug war immediately and replace it with a common sense approach."
Back in 2010, the California branch of the NAACP endorsed the state's marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, and local NAACP president Alice Huffman had strong words in support of the ballot measure. "We have empirical proof that the application of the marijuana laws has been unfairly applied to our young people of color," Huffman said to CNN. "Justice is the quality of being just and fair and these laws have been neither just nor fair." Proposition 19 was later rejected by California voters.
The local NAACP is joined by other politicians and public figures who are voicing a more common point of view -- that the drug war has been a failure.
Newark, N.J. Mayor Corry Booker has been vocal in his criticisms of the war on drugs, calling it a failure and a policy that unfairly targets the black population. Booker took to Reddit in July to blast the war on drugs again saying it was ineffective and "represents big overgrown government at its worst."
Earlier in July, another New Jersey politician, Gov. Chris Christie, slammed the now 40-year-old war on drugs as well saying in no uncertain terms, "The war on drugs, while well-intentioned, has been a failure."
And back in March, evangelical conservative Pat Robertson took to the airwaves of "The 700 Club" condemning arrests for marijuana possession. "I just think it's shocking how many of these young people wind up in a prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of controlled substance," Robertson said according to Reason Magazine. "It's time we stop locking up people for possession of marijuana."
Then a week later Robertson echoed those sentiments in an interview with the New York Times saying, "I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs hasn't succeeded."
Booker and the NAACP's statements echo those of Ron Paul's, who has been loudly stating his opposition to the United States' drug policies for decades. Paul, during a run for president in 1988, explained to a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws meeting that he believed that the drug war in the U.S. had racist origins, The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported in 2011. Read Grim's in-depth look at the drug war and racism here.
If marijuana is legalized in Colorado it would be taxed and regulated similar to alcohol and tobacco and according to a recent report from the Colorado Center on Law & Policy, that could generate up to $60 million in revenue in the first year of legalization for the state, with that figure projected to grow to around $100 million per year after five years.
Coloradans will vote on Amendment 64 on November 6. This is the second time that Colorado voters will decide on pot legislation -- state voters considered and rejected a similar recreational pot legalization initiative in 2006.
Below, where you can find legalized medical marijuana in the United States: