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July 19, 2010

Prop 19 opponent: ‘drugs have no religious preference’

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/prop_19_opponent_drugs_have_no_religious_preference_20100719/

I occasionally play basketball down in Orange County with a judge who signed the ballot argument in favor of Proposition 19, the California measure that would legalize, tax and regulate the use of marijuana.

I’m a supporter of Prop 19. Believe it or not, I’ve never smoked pot, but I’ve written too many stories about all the loopholes out there for people who want to legally smoke marijuana to think there is much wisdom in maintaining a underground market by treating cannabis different than alcohol.

But California’s black community doesn’t necessarily agree. According to today’s New York Times, they, like Californians in general, are split on the measure. The NYT’s story opens with Ron Allen:

“I was a pastor on crack cocaine, sir,” said Mr. Allen, who says he has been sober for 11 years and now identifies himself as the bishop of the International Faith Based Coalition here. “Drugs have no religious preference.”

And while crack cocaine laid him low, Mr. Allen says his first drug of choice was marijuana. So it is that Mr. Allen and a cadre of other black pastors, priests and other religious leaders have bonded together in recent weeks to fight what they see as a potentially devastating blow to their communities: Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would tax and regulate marijuana.

In doing so, Mr. Allen and his followers have opened a new, potentially crucial front in the battle over Proposition 19, pitting those afraid of more widespread use of the drug versus those who see legalization as “an exit strategy in the war on marijuana.”

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How black voters in California decide on Proposition 19, which would allow anyone 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, could be critical to its success or failure. (At the moment, possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, about an ounce, is punishable in most cases by up to six months in prison and a $500 fine.)

Blacks make up less than 10 percent of the population in California, but unlike two larger minority groups in the state where opinions on the measure are also split—Asians and Latinos—their “participation in elections is on par with their populations,” according to the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit group here.

You can read the rest here.

I don’t buy Allen’s argument. But the story does well to show just how divided African American leaders are over this measure. Most notably, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is black, opposes Prop 19.

Of course, the criminalization of marijuana created a criminal underclass overnight. And the story notes that black men have bore the brunt of arrests for marijuana possession.

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