The NAACP's California chapter pledged its support on Tuesday for a marijuana legalization ballot measure, saying current laws are unfairly used to target minorities.
The group highlighted findings it says show the arrest rate among blacks for low-level marijuana crimes far exceed those of whites in the state's largest counties.
"Justice is the quality of being just and fair and these laws have been neither just nor fair," said Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The November ballot measure would let adults possess up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Residents could legally grow small marijuana gardens, and individual cities and counties would decide whether to allow marijuana sales.
The NAACP's announcement outraged a Sacramento preacher who is leading opposition to the measure.
International Faith-Based Coalition president Ron Allen said African-American leaders are distressed that one of the country's most respected civil rights organizations would disregard the harm caused by illicit drugs among blacks.
"The NAACP does not represent the African-American community when it comes to legalizing marijuana," Allen said.
Drug legalization advocates hailed the endorsement as a major step forward in broadening the coalition of groups who support the reform of marijuana laws. Opponents of current drug prohibitions frequently point to the issue of race and drug arrests as evidence of a flawed national policy.
"There have not been high profile organizations or elected officials within African-American communities to say enough is enough, we have to end marijuana prohibition. This is really a first," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
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