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Why Prop. 64 is the right way to legalize pot in California

An employee fills a container with medical cannabis blueberries coated with chocolate at Kiva Confections in Oakland. Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana in California. To read arguments for and against other statewide ballot measures, go to sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed.
An employee fills a container with medical cannabis blueberries coated with chocolate at Kiva Confections in Oakland. Proposition 64 would legalize recreational marijuana in California. To read arguments for and against other statewide ballot measures, go to sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

It’s no accident that every public poll says California voters overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization and Proposition 64.

First, Californians know it’s illogical to continue criminalizing otherwise law-abiding, nonviolent adults for a drug that President Barack Obama says is no more dangerous than alcohol.

Second, Californians understand that Proposition 64 is not a choice between a world with marijuana and one without. It’s a chance to strictly regulate a $1 billion industry that is widely prevalent but is currently untaxed and controlled by illegal dealers and cartels operating in the shadows. It’s a chance to base those regulations on the medical marijuana model already created by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature.

The California NAACP supports and helped with drafting Proposition 64 because we’ve long believed that our country’s misguided war on marijuana has been an abject failure. Even worse, it has disproportionately targeted and ruined lives in communities of color.

One of the biggest misconceptions about marijuana is that it is already “quasi-legal” in California. That might be true in certain communities, but not in others. Over the last decade, nearly 500,000 Californians have been arrested for nonviolent, pot-related crimes. Even though African Americans, Latinos and whites use marijuana at roughly similar rates, an African American is more than twice as likely as a white person to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor and five times as likely to be arrested for a felony. Last year alone, Latinos represented half of all marijuana misdemeanor arrests in California, creating a permanent criminal record and effectively ending the dream of college financial aid or an advanced-skills job.

The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Proposition 64 provides the potential of “tens of millions” in annual savings to state and local governments from no longer having to jail marijuana offenders.

Proposition 64 replaces the failed criminalization-and-incarceration model with strong regulation and prevention, which experts have argued is far more effective at protecting communities and especially children. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, instead building on regulations for medical marijuana and adding a tax structure that will finally allow communities to mitigate the impact of the marijuana industry.

With the $1 billion in new revenue that independent fiscal experts agree it could generate, California will be able to fund local law enforcement, drug counseling, youth activities, job training and environmental restoration of damage caused by illegal marijuana grows.

With technical assistance from the California Highway Patrol, Proposition 64 empowers law enforcement experts to establish the first statewide standards for impaired driving due to marijuana and funds technical training and tools for field officers to make our roads even safer.

Proposition 64 is a comprehensive approach to marijuana policy which we believe will become a model for the nation, and it begins with ending the social and fiscal injustices of criminalization.

Alice Huffman is president of NAACP California and wrote this viewpoint on behalf of the Yes on Proposition 64 campaign. She can be contacted at alicehuffman@sbcglobal.net.

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