Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 2014
Source: Daily Times (Primos, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Associated Press
Author: Ben Nuckols, The Associated Press
Page: A15
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


WASHINGTON (AP) - A debate over legalizing marijuana in the nation's 
capital is focusing on the outsized number of arrests of African 
Americans on minor drug charges.

Pot legalization supporters in Colorado and Washington state also 
spoke about racial justice, but their voters are mostly white and 
their campaigns focused more on other issues. The race factor hits 
closer to many more homes in the District, where nearly half the 
population is black.

And that means this referendum could change how the nation talks 
about marijuana, some drug-policy experts say.

"I think D.C. is going to probably set off a chain of events in which 
communities of color generally and cities in particular take on the 
issue of legalization as a racial justice, social justice issue in a 
much stronger way than they have so far," said Bill Piper, director 
of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance.

There are many other differences between the District and states that 
have legalized pot. The city is a patchwork of local and federal 
land, and there will be no lighting up in front of the White House or 
at the Jefferson Memorial. Also, Washington remains under the thumb 
of Congress, which could thwart the will of the voters as it has on 
other matters where liberal District tendencies clash with 
conservative priorities on Capitol Hill.

Nonetheless, the District is on track to join Colorado and Washington 
state in legalizing marijuana. A poll last month showed nearly 2 of 
every 3 voters favor the initiative, which will be on November's 
ballot. Voters in Volunteer Shannon Mordhorst, left, and DC Cannabis 
Campaign outreach coordinator Rica Madrid work on emails in support 
of legalization of marijuana thursday, in Washington. Alaska and 
Oregon also decide this fall whether to legalize pot.

Roughly half of the District's 646,000 residents are black. The 
American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2010, blacks were eight 
times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession 
in the District, and 91 percent of those arrested that year were black.

"It would alleviate a lot of problems," said Kenneth Agee, 46, a 
heating and air conditioning mechanic who plans to vote for 
legalization. "There may be less violence on the streets associated 
with marijuana trafficking and sales."

The D.C. Council tried earlier this year to address racial 
disparities by decriminalizing marijuana, as 17 states have done. 
Possession of up to one ounce of pot in the District is now subject 
to a $25 fine, among the lowest in the nation. The law took effect in 
July, despite an attempt by Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, 
to block the measure.

Legalization advocates say decriminalization hasn't done enough, 
citing police statistics that show most of the $25 tickets are being 
handed out in predominantly black neighborhoods.

"We can tell the police, 'Guess what? It's not even a crime. You 
don't have to write a ticket,'" said Adam Eidinger, chairman of the 
D.C. Cannabis Campaign, the group that crafted the initiative and got 
it on the ballot.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom