Today, a group of leaders from Washington’s ethnic and racial communities, in collaboration with the ACLU of Washington, submitted comments addressing the state Liquor Control Board’s initial draft rules for Initiative 502. Passed by Washington voters last November, Initiative 502 requires the board to finalize regulations governing marijuana production and distribution by December 1.
“It is important that the communities impacted most by the War on Drugs are at the table when reforms are being discussed,” said James Wilburn, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. “We don’t want to see our young people getting criminal records for marijuana use, but we also don’t want to see them increasing their marijuana use. Legal availability of marijuana must be coupled with greater access to prevention and treatment programs in our public schools so that we can cut off the pipeline that funnels our youth to prison.”
Gwen Allen-Carston, executive director of the Kent Black Action Commission added, “Washington is taking the lead in developing a new approach to marijuana that will eliminate some of the collateral damage these laws have inflicted in our communities. We want to ensure those harms aren’t replaced with new unintended consequences.”
While the group expressed confidence that I-502 will lessen racial disparities in drug law enforcement, it remained concerned about how the new law and rules will impact communities of color. The group made fourteen recommendations and highlighted four issues:
• Being sensitive to how youth may interpret the new law;
• Building trust between community members and licensees;
• Highlighting economic opportunities for community members; and
• Decreasing health disparities and improving overall physical and mental health.
“Initiative 502 has the potential to establish a better, more public health-oriented approach to marijuana use,” noted Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, “but we need to start off on the right foot and follow through with vigilant monitoring of the impacts in our communities.”
The organizations and individuals joining in these recommendations included Gwen Allen-Carston, executive director, Kent Black Action Commission; Pam Austin, multicultural specialist and faculty member, Spokane Falls Community College; James Bible, Esq., president, Seattle King County NAACP; Juan Jose Bocanegra, chair, La Coordinadora Nacional por una Reforma Migratoria; Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Braxton, senior pastor, New Beginnings Christian Fellowship; Ben Cabildo, Spokane Filipino community leader; Dorry Elias-Garcia, executive director, Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County; Jaime Garcia, executive director, Consejo; Emily Gonzales, president, Latino Bar Association of Washington; Larry Gossett, King County City Councilmember; Elaine Ishihara, director, APICAT; Jeffrey Liang, member, Asian Bar Association; Pastor Carl Livingston, Kingdom Christian Center, Seattle Central Community College professor; Yvonne Lopez-Morton, Spokane Hispanic community advocate; Sharon Maeda, executive director, 21 Progress; Martin Meraz-Garcia, Eastern Washington University assistant professor of Chicano education; Estela Ortega, executive director, El Centro de la Raza; Rogelio Riojas, executive director, Sea Mar Community Health Centers; Chris Stearns, chair, Seattle Human Rights Commission; Rev. Harriet Walden, executive director, Mothers for Police Accountability; Rev. Happy Watkins, senior pastor, New Hope Baptist Church; James Wilburn, Jr., president, Spokane NAACP; Vang Xiong X, Spokane Hmong community leader; and the ACLU of Washington.