Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

August 24, 2010
African-American officers endorse Prop 19, community is split

The last time Neill Franklin was in Sacramento, he joined California NAACP president Alice Huffman as the civil rights group offered its controversial, attention-drawing endorsement of the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

At the time, the veteran former Baltimore police officer joined with the NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance in a June 30 press conference that dramatized disproportionate arrests of African-Americans to argue for pot's legalization.

Now Franklin, an African-American and the executive director of an anti-drug war group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is hailing the decision of a national black officers' organization to back California's Proposition 19.

"I saw with my own eyes the devastating impact these misguided marijuana laws have on our communities," Franklin said in a statement at last week's National Black Police Association conference in Sacramento. "This November, with the National Black Police Association's help, Californians finally have an opportunity to do something about it by approving the initiative to control and tax marijuana."

But the political and cultural debate over marijuana legalization is particularly intense among many African-American community leaders, provoking a clash over concerns of unequal police enforcement vs. fears of increased marijuana use.

On one hand, Huffman, in an appearance last week before The Sacramento Bee editorial board, said California is poised to pass a marijuana reform measure that will "have implications across this country and put some teeth about doing something about its failed drug policy."

On another, retired state lawmaker and former Los Angeles City Council member and mayoral candidate Nate Holden evokes Martin Luther King in condemning proposals to legalize marijuana or weaken drug laws.

"Dr. King would be very disturbed by the fact that many of our elected officials are closing their hearts and their minds about the effects of drug abuse, which plagued our inner cities for generations," Holden has written. "...Dr. King would be absolutely disturbed by...the idea of legalizing drug dealers."

Meanwhile, Bishop Ron Allen, a pastor in Sacramento's Oak Park community, has made a national name for himself by rallying against the marijuana initiative as he compiled a portfolio of national television interviews.

Allen, who describes himself as a former crack addict who started out smoking marijuana, was in characteristic form on Fox News recently when he said Oakland City Council members became "drug lords" by voting to license local marijuana cultivators.

"They're putting at risk not only Oakland, California but the surrounding communities also," he said.

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