A local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is getting involved in the push to make Nevada the next state to legalize marijuana.
Jeffery Blanck, president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP, sent a letter to all state lawmakers declaring, “It is time to end the failed war on marijuana.”
In an email to Marijuana.com, Blanck explained that the organization felt “that the best way to end the disparate treatment of people of color for marijuana arrests in Nevada was to legalize it.”
“Prohibition didn’t work and neither is criminalizing marijuana use and possession,” he said. “The enforcement money could be much better spent on education.”
The letter, first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, references a 2013 ACLU report which found that Nevada has the 11th most racially disparate marijuana arrest rate in the U.S. Blacks in the Silver State are 4.47 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites are, even though usage rates are virtually the same.
“This is not a war on drugs, but a war on our local population,” the letter reads. “What harm is there to our society if a person is smoking marijuana in their home?”
Advocates recently turned in more than enough signatures to qualify a legalization measure for Nevada’s November 2016 ballot, but the NAACP’s Blanck doesn’t want the state to have to wait that long. He said legislators should enact the measure sooner, writing that the state’s arrest rates are “nothing to be proud of, seeing how we have historically been referred to as the ‘Mississippi of the West.'”
In recent years local NAACP groups have been active in efforts to legalize marijuana, starting with the California branch, which endorsed a 2010 initiative that ended up falling short on election day, but which made major national headlines and helped put ending prohibition on the map as a civil rights and racial justice issue.
“We have empirical proof that the application of the marijuana laws has been unfairly applied to our young people of color,” California NAACP branch head Alice Huffman said at the time.
Since then, NAACP branches have been involved in successful efforts to legalize marijuana in four states and the District of Columbia.
The D.C. effort in particular was framed as a racial justice campaign, with emphasis placed on using tax revenues from legal marijuana to help communities hit the hardest by prohibition.
“Given the damage that has been done to our communities from the war on drugs, it only makes sense that the revenues generated from the taxation of marijuana be reinvested into the communities harmed the most,” said Akosua Ali, president of NAACP’s D.C. branch. “This is the definition of socioeconomic justice.”
The national NAACP hasn’t backed legalization outright, but has endorsed a congressional bill to let states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
A 2013 poll found that 54 percent of Nevada voters support legalizing marijuana.
In Blanck’s letter to lawmakers, he says, “The trend of legalizing recreational use of marijuana is starting to sweep the country and Nevada needs to do the same.”