In 2014, 73 percent of misdemeanor marijuana arrests are people under 20. Nearly 70 percent of arrests were people of color.
Citing the continued widespread criminalization of young people of color through marijuana enforcement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California announced it has endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (“AUMA”) to control, regulate, and tax adult use, sale and cultivation of marijuana in California. The measure is expected to qualify for the November state ballot.
Low-level marijuana possession was reduced from a misdemeanor to an infraction in California in 2011, but marijuana law enforcement still results in thousands of arrests each year.
In 2011 to 2014, according to the California Department of Justice, law enforcement agencies made 60,000 marijuana arrests statewide. In 2014, young people under the age of 20 accounted for 73 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana arrests in the state. Nearly 70 percent of all marijuana arrests were of people of color. A recent analysis of infraction data from Fresno and Los Angeles Police Departments found racial disparities in marijuana enforcement remain even at the lowest level.
“The disastrous war on marijuana in California continues to ensnare thousands of people – particularly young people of color – in the criminal justice system every year,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, criminal justice and drug policy director with the ACLU of California. “It is time to move from prohibition to regulation.
“AUMA will establish a controlled and regulated market for adults, significantly reduce the harm done to young people under current marijuana laws, and generate substantial revenue for drug education and for the communities most devastated by the war on drugs.”
In anticipation that California voters would be asked to create a regulated marijuana market, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and the ACLU of California in 2013 convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy. Composed of leading legal, academic, law enforcement and policy experts from across the state and nation, the Blue Ribbon Commission engaged in a two-year research effort designed to help voters and policy makers evaluate proposals for a strict tax and regulation system for marijuana. The Commission published its findings in 2015 in Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California.
“In November, California voters will have the opportunity to get regulation right,” said Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California and steering committee member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.
“AUMA is a comprehensive proposal that incorporates consensus findings based on extensive research and discussion,” he continued. “Most importantly, it includes measures that will protect young people, maintain public safety, and establish workable taxation and regulation. This comprehensive measure lays out a strong framework for implementation.”
The measure would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess marijuana and grow small amounts at home for personal use. AUMA has been endorsed by the California Council of Land Trusts, California Medical Association, and California NAACP, among others.