Pot Legalization Divides California's Black Voters If passed, Proposition 19 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The state's NAACP has endorsed the measure, saying it's a civil rights issue. But a Sacramento preacher who is encouraging voters to reject Proposition 19 says drugs are tearing the black community apart.
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Pot Legalization Divides California's Black Voters

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Pot Legalization Divides California's Black Voters

Pot Legalization Divides California's Black Voters

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

This week we're hearing about the move to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California. Kelly Weiss reports that Proposition 19 is dividing African American voters.

KELLY WEISS: Huffman says if proposition 19 passes, it will help improve this area even more.

ALICE HUFFMAN: And once this drug is legalized there'll be no need for these little gang bangers to be out here killing each other over drug turf, over the cash that they get, maybe we can take that money and give them some training and give them some jobs.

WEISS: Huffman considers legalizing marijuana a civil rights issue. She cites a study from a pro-prop 19 organization, the Drug Policy Alliance. It found marijuana arrests are much higher for African Americans than whites in California. The data show in Sacramento, blacks are almost six times more likely to be arrested for pot possession. And in the city of Pasadena, near Los Angeles, the rate is twelve times higher.

HUFFMAN: It was a kind of a revelation when I saw what was happening to minority kids, and I was wondering why the prisons were so crowded and I was wondering why we can't get them educated and turn them into life-long productive citizens.

RON ALLEN: I don't believe that the blacks are targeted, I need to say that up front.

WEISS: Bishop Ron Allen has been fighting drug abuse in this community for years. He's with the International Faith Based Coalition and he's against Prop 19. He says most blacks aren't in jail over pot charges, so legalizing marijuana won't fix racial inequalities in the justice system.

ALLEN: I believe that the crimes are happening within our community, and we have to get that turned around with education and job training and job placement.

WEISS: Allen points out boarded up buildings across the street from the very same coffee shop NAACP leader Alice Huffman was at. He says if marijuana is legalized, it could undermine the progress on this revitalized corner. Allen says, as a former drug addict, he should know.

ALLEN: We do not need another schedule one, illicit drug legalized in the Oak Park area. We have enough dope.

WEISS: Allen is walking the neighborhood with Lateka Stanley. She mentors area teens - many who are at-risk of dropping out of high school.

LATEKA STANLEY: Any young person that I see on marijuana is less productive than they would be if they were not on it, it's as simple as that.

WEISS: Back outside of the trendy coffee shop, Phil Jones, who grew up here, says he smokes pot and is still productive. He's never been arrested for it, but knows a lot of black people who have had run ins with the police for marijuana possession.

PHIL JONES: Well there's always some discrimination when a lot of African Americans come together and they always are stereotyping, thinking that you are in a gang or you've got drugs on you, especially in the Oak Park community.

WEISS: But one cafe-goer grabbing a quick lunch, Vonnie Collins, has a different take on Prop 19. She says it's stereotypical to make it into a race issue.

VONNIE COLLINS: I think it's focused more on the black community, for whatever reason, but I think that it will have an adverse affect on all communities no matter what their racial background.

WEISS: For NPR News, I'm Kelley Weiss in Sacramento.

INSKEEP: See the difference between white and black arrest rates for marijuana possession at npr.org.

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