Why California’s Latinos Should Support Proposition 19

A growing coalition of Latino organizations is urging California’s Latinos to vote yes on Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that would legalize and regulate marijuana.


The coalition, including the California League of United Latin American Citizens, the Latino Voters League, and, most recently, the National Latino Officers Association, supports Prop. 19 because it will make the community safer and aid the economy.


Even more importantly, legalization will put an end to the racist enforcement of marijuana laws against Latinos, according to a new report released by the Drug Policy Alliance and the William C. Velasquez Institute, another major Latino organization that has endorsed Prop. 19.


In the last 10 years California made 500,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The people arrested were disproportionately African Ameri cans and Latinos, and overwhelmingly young people.


Young Latinos consume less marijuana than young whites. Yet from 2006 through 2008, the report found that major cities in California arrested and prosecuted Latinos for marijuana possession at double to nearly triple the rate of whites.


A marijuana possession arrest can have serious consequences, even if a person is not incarcerated. For example, one guilty plea for marijuana possession can deny a legal immigrant who leaves the country reentry to the U.S. Two guilty pleas can trigger mandatory deportation.


The groups in this coalition defend the rights of the Latino community, and that’s why they support Prop. 19 -- because they recognize that no one should be arrested or deported for a marijuana offense.


Moreover, they recognize that legalization will help the state budget and create new jobs.  Right now, the state’s marijuana industry is worth over $14 billion.  If it were taxed, the state could generate several hundred million dollars annually – money that could be used to fund drug prevention programs, health services, and public education.  And when it is legalized, this new industry will need lots of workers – from the farm to the pharmacy.


Prop. 19 will also reduce crime in our neighborhoods by taking money out of the hands of street gangs and drug cartels that currently benefit from the marijuana trade.  By eliminating the immense black market for marijuana in California, there will be no dealers in our streets and no gangs fighting over the profits. And because police will no longer spend their time making marijuana arrests, they will be able to focus on preventing violent crime instead.


Legalization could weaken organized crime in Mexico as well, where violence related to drug prohibition has resulted in the deaths of almost 30,000 people in the last four years.  Bringing the underground market for marijuana into the light of day will significantly diminish the profits that are possible for drug trafficking organizations on both sides of the border.  Although Prop. 19 will not solve the problems of drug trafficking in Mexico in the short run, it represents an historic step forward for both countries.


The black market doesn’t just fuel crime and violence; it actually makes marijuana more accessible to children, too. Right now, young people can obtain marijuana more easily on the black market than they can alcoholic beverages from the liquor stores. Why? Because liquor stores check IDs before selling alcohol, but the criminals in the black market don’t.  So the best way to prevent marijuana use by kids is to regulate it like alcohol – only for adults, and only from legitimate businesses.


The latest polls, however, indicate that Latinos are divided about the initiative.  If you have not yet made up your minds, consider how Prop. 19 will protect the safety and civil rights of the Latino community.


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