Next Tuesday, Californians will vote on the historic Proposition 19, which would decriminalize adult possession and growing of marijuana for personal use. It would also allow cities and counties to adopt regulations permitting the commercial production and distribution of cannabis to consumers.
Should it become law, Proposition 19 would represent a huge step forward in ending the civil liberties and civil rights abuses fostered by the War on Drugs, including racist enforcement of drug prohibition.
Last week, in a New York Times op-ed titled "Smoke and Horrors," Charles M. Blow highlighted the "grotesquely race-biased patterns of arrests" for marijuana offenses. These arrests have long-term consequences for the young African American and Hispanic men unfairly targeted as compared to their white counterparts who use marijuana at higher rates. As Michelle Alexander points out in her recent book The New Jim Crow, tagging a young man of color with a criminal record provides a legal way to discriminate against him, replacing the Jim Crow laws struck down by the civil rights movement. And as Alexander points out, “Nothing has contributed more to the systematic mass incarceration of people of color in the United States than the War on Drugs.”
Californians have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in ending the War on Drugs and the racist ways in which it has been waged. You do, too. Tell your friends and family in California that this vote is too important to sit out.