graphic: GUS314159 via Flickr

Paul Armantano, the Deputy Director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), has given us one of two easy, yet important reasons to vote yes on California’s Proposition 19. He points out in a November 1 essay at Truthout, that the laws for marijuana possession are disproportionately enforced. These laws are both the result of and spur to societal racial and ethnic discrimination.

African-Americans and Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than whites, yet they are prosecuted for minor cannabis possession offenses in California’s largest cities at rates two to twelve times higher than Caucasians, according to a pair of just-released reports commissioned by The Drug Policy Alliance, the California NAACP and the William C. Velasquez Institute.

From 2006 to 2008, African Americans were arrested for marijuana possession offenses in California’s 25 largest cities at four, five, six, seven and even twelve times the rate of whites, the report found….

Full text of both studies are available here and here.

But some of the slicker opponents of Proposition 19 would have you believe that prosecutions for cannabis possession is no big deal in supposedly progressive California. But Armantano notes, “From 1990 through 2009, police departments in California made 850,000 criminal prosecutions for possessing small amounts of marijuana and half a million marijuana possession prosecutions in the last ten years, the report found.” And those prosecutions fall much more heavily upon African Americans and Latinos than whites.  . . .

In presumably liberal San Jose, where blacks make up only 2.9 percent of the population, studies found that blacks were arrested “at more than five times the rate of whites.” In the City of Torrance, in the Los Angeles basin, another city where blacks constitute about 2 percent of the population, African Americans are arrested at five times the rates of whites. Latinos are similarly targeted. Just from 2006 to 2008, “Latinos were arrested for marijuana possession offenses in California’s 33 largest cities at ‘double to nearly triple’ the rates of whites.

So one good reason to end this insane marijuana prohibition is because it is discriminatory. Apparently the National Latino Officers Association agrees, as does “the National Black Police Association, the California Council of Churches IMPACT, the California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the California League of United Latin American Citizens, the Latino Voters League, the Progressive Jewish Alliance and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Western States Council,” because they all support voting Yes on Prop. 19.

The other easy reason to support Proposition 19, among the many reasons for ending the illegal status of marijuana, is that doing so will save lives. Whether it is legal access to the drug for medical patients, the facility of doing necessary medical research that the ultimate removal of marijuana from dangerous drug status will bring, or the removal of hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal booty from the hands of criminal cartels, with the consequent drug wars and murders that luridly spread across the headlines, cannabis legalization will save lives.

As a psychologist who has worked with patients who abuse drugs, I can testify that while not totally safe — no drug is — marijuana is far safer than most drugs, both legal and illegal. When there is the occasional patient who needs help with a marijuana problem, they will be far more likely to come to treatment if the illegality and stigma of use is removed.

Voting Yes on Proposition 19 should be a no-brainer. Laws banning drugs, especially those that are mostly innocuous, are discriminatory. Legalizing marijuana will help save lives, and put a serious dent in the power of the drug cartels and criminal gangs preying on the defenseless.