The NAACP's California chapter recently backed legislation to legalize marijuana, stating that existing laws are biased against minorities. The group also highlighted the high arrest rate of African Americans, claiming that it dramatically exceeds that of whites.
"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 NAACP.
The measure, which is going to be on the November ballot, would allow residents to legally grow small gardens of marijuana, letting individual counties and cities decide whether to allow the marijuana to be sold.
Not everyone is happy about this measure though. International Faith-Based Coalition President Ron Allen is against the NAACP's backing of the measure and is vocal is in his opposition.
"The NAACP does not represent the African American community when it comes to legalizing marijuana," Allen said.
Allen might be in the minority on this issue, however, as there are many community activists who feel that the support of the NAACP will signal broader backing of the measure.
"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.
Allen is correct in that the NAACP doesn't speak for the entire black community on the marijuana issue. But the truth is that the group doesn't speak for the entire community on many issues, including illegal immigration and support for Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.
What must be remembered, however, is that the NAACP leadership also understands that it doesn't speak for the entire black community, primarily because it would be impossible for the entire black community to be represented by one voice. The group is a strong advocate for African Americans, and the world is better with the NAACP than it would be without it.
On the issue of legalizing drugs, there are clear benefits to seeing marijuana as a public health issue rather than one that involves criminalization. A little weed has not, to my knowledge, hurt anyone. Although I've never tried it myself, I am not overly concerned with its legalization. There are also tremendous tax benefits to cash-strapped communities, especially California, where taxation of the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry would be a huge step in helping the state overcome its serious budget crisis.
A final point that must be acknowledged, and Allen addresses this quite well, is the fact that the black community is quite conservative. It's hard to imagine black church leadership ever standing behind the legalization of marijuana, or any drug, which certainly reminds us that the NAACP will likely get even more resistance on this issue.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the new book 'Black American Money.' To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.