Efforts to legalize and regulate marijuana in Colorado got a boost today when Amendment 64 was endorsed by the regional conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Amendment 64 is currently on the ballot in the state. If approved by voters this November, the initiative would make marijuana legal under state law for adults over the age of 21, with it regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.
The NAACP felt compelled to endorse efforts to legalize marijuana primarily because marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced against minorities. For decades African-Americans have been more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and more likely to face harsher punishments. This is true both nationally and in Colorado. For example, in Denver African-Americans account for over 30 percent of all arrests for private adult marijuana possession even though African Americans make up just 11 percent of the population of the city.
The NAACP endorsement helps highlight the fact that marijuana reform in addition to being about personal liberty, government fiscal responsibility, and reducing crime, is also a civil rights issue. While laws prohibiting marijuana in America are technically color blind, they were often conceived, designed and implemented in a clearly racially biased manner.
The endorsement of one of the nation’s most prestigious civil rights organizations should help the campaign in its outreach to the state’s African-American community. While African-Americans only make up 4.3 percent of the state’s population, with the initiative polling so close to even, a few percentage points could make the difference between a narrow win and a narrow loss this November.