California's Proposition 19 would authorize possession of one ounce of marijuana for personal consumption by people twenty-one and older, legalize marijuana use in private homes, and allow marijuana growth in private residences for personal use. Supporters of Proposition 19 argue that legalizing and taxing marijuana could help the cash-strapped state and reduce arrests of nonviolent drug offenders, who are disproportionately Black and Latino youth. We speak to California NAACP president Alice Huffman.
Guest: Alice Huffman, President of the California NAACP. Related stories
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Laura Wells, for being here. Tim Redmond, I want to get a quick take on you on the marijuana proposition, and then we're going to go to the NAACP after break on what they feel about it.
TIM REDMOND: Yeah, it's the—Proposition 19 would legalize marijuana in California, but in a very interesting way. Instead of a statewide measure that says California is now legal—marijuana is now legal in California, Prop 19 says that local communities, cities and counties, have the right to legalize pot if they want and to regulate it and—and this is key—tax it, if they want and the way that they want. Now, the fascinating thing about this is, as everybody knows, marijuana is California's number one cash crop, probably $20 billion a year, and it's all going completely untaxed, except for the communities that have placed modest taxes on medical marijuana, which is an issue in itself, of course. If you treat marijuana as medicine, why are we taxing it? Well, what this would allow is it would allow communities to say, "We are going to allow people to buy and sell small amounts of marijuana, and we're going to take a cut of that," the same way there's a tax on liquor and there's a tax on cigarettes.
Oakland, for example, is already preparing for this. Oakland has a couple of ballot measures that would start implementing Prop 19, assuming that it passes. And it looks right now like it might. It's slightly ahead in the polls. It might actually pass. Oakland has about a $40 million budget deficit. I was talking to one of the mayoral candidates the other day, and she said, "You know, according to some studies, if we legalize marijuana and legalize industrial-level hemp growing and cannabis growing, we could bring in $30 million a year. There goes the budget deficit." So, the idea here that California would be able to use marijuana—and local cities, that have been starved by the state and starved by the federal government—I mean, the real economic crisis in terms of government in California is happening in cities and counties, where the services are actually delivered and where the state has cut off all of this funding year after year after year. The idea that we might actually be able to bring in some tax revenue from marijuana, and at the same time end a significant part of the war on drugs that is clogging the prisons, that is clogging the court systems, it would be an extraordinary statement.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, as well, for being with us, Tim Redmond. We'll link to your work at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We're going to continue the discussion on Proposition 19 when we come back, and then Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would effectively repeal California's landmark global warming emissions law. This is Democracy Now! We're broadcasting from San Francisco. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting from San Francisco, and we're going to talk about—continue to talk about the marijuana initiative, before we talk about Proposition 23. We urge you to go to our website at democracynow.org, where you can read the transcripts of the show, and also you can video and audio podcast if you miss any part of this. But this other ballot initiative getting a lot of attention here in California is Prop 19, as you just heard, the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. The initiative would authorize possession of one ounce of marijuana for personal consumption by people twenty-one and older, legalize marijuana use in private homes, allow marijuana growth in private residences for personal use, and permit cities and counties to authorize the cultivation and sale of marijuana.
Marijuana, as you just heard, is California's largest cash crop, and California was the first state to permit the use of medical marijuana fourteen years ago. Supporters of Prop 19 argue legalizing and taxing marijuana could help the cash-strapped state. Many also argue the initiative would have a profound effect on ending the arrests of nonviolent drug offenders, who are disproportionately Black and Latino youth. The California NAACP supports Prop 19 and says legalizing marijuana is a civil rights issue.
So we're joined on the phone now from Sacramento by California NAACP president Alice Huffman.
Alice, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain your position.
ALICE HUFFMAN: Well, my position—thank you very much for allowing me to be on the show today.
And my position and the NAACP's position is that we have a drug war, and the penalties and the implementation of action by police on that drug war has caused a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos to be arrested for this low-level crime, which, in my opinion, when you have a law that is not applied evenly across the board, then you have discrimination, and it's legal discrimination. And it's destroying our families and destroying our community.
AMY GOODMAN: And how much support do you have in this, Alice Huffman?
ALICE HUFFMAN: Well, all of the various official bodies of the NAACP in California voted. After we looked at the data and after we saw the disproportionate number of our community young people that's being arrested for this low-level crime, we voted overwhelmingly in all of our official groups in California to support Prop 19. It probably surprises a lot of people, because, yes, marijuana is a narcotic, and yes, we are not advocating for increased use of marijuana by anyone. But almost 50 percent of Californians currently have used or use marijuana. So the drug war clearly has failed, and it has clearly been implemented on the back of our children, not the drug cartels, not the drug lords, but the arrest of young African Americans and Latino children out of control, and it's just time to face up to the fact that we have a drug policy that does not work. Just like the alcohol prohibition didn't work, the prohibition on the cannabis, on marijuana, is certainly not working, not only in California, but across the nation.
AMY GOODMAN: Alice Huffman, I want to thank you for being with us from Sacramento, president of the California NAACP.