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Marijuana Enforcement Disproportionately Impact Minorities

Colorado Public News

100,000 Coloradans have medical marijuana licenses now. Still, even though more patients can legally buy pot, arrests are UP by seven per cent. And data shows that minorities are arrested at higher rates than whites, even though they use the drug less. With an amendment to legalize marijuana on the ballot this fall, Colorado Public News’ Carol McKinley takes a look at the controversial issue.

Despite more lenient laws, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation says more than 10,000 Coloradans were arrested for marijuana possession last year. 2o year-old Jeff Bobitsky of Arvada was one of them.

We were just smoking bowls pretty much ...cop pulls up, and I mean the car was pretty much clambaked so I had to admit to something because you cant just roll down the windows and all the smoke coming out, uh, I don’t have anything.

Bobitsky says he's been lighting up every day since he was 15. One might think he would be all for Amendment 64, a ballot issue that would legalize marijuana in Colorado. But he's undecided-- worried about government and private business getting involved.

I would like it to be like alcohol cause that would be nice to go into a store to purchase it or whatever but then I worry about the quality.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck believes making the entire marijuana industry legal is a big mistake, especially since it's being offered up as a constitutional amendment, which is binding.

If the legislature decided they wanted to reduce the amount or to put other restrictions on it, they can’t do it because this is now going to be a constitutional right.

But proponents of Amendment 64 believe taking pot will mean much needed funding for schools, and will keep the courts from spending precious hours policing people like Jeff Bobitsky.

We are really trying to change our broken marijuana laws.

Brian Vincente, Co-director of the pro-64 campaign, says that even though most people caught with pot get a citation and not jail time, that citation can be a scarlet letter.

If that individual is found guilty, as many people are, they then have a Class 2 petty offense, which is a criminal offense, conviction on the record...and that is very accessible to potential employers, that’s accessible to government, that’s accessible to schools when people are applying there, applying to be in the military...

If you believe the pools, there's a good chance the measure will pass. That will mean Colorado police won't arrest for marijuana anymore, only federal officers. The NAACP and the ACLU are endorsing the amendment. They say marijuana enforcement is stacked against minorities.

We see this as a civil rights issue.

That's Rosemary Harris-Lytle, President of the Regional NAACP. One study using FBI statistics shows in Colorado over the past 10 years, African-Americans were arrested three times more than whites for pot use, even thought they use the drug less.

ACLU Public Policy Director Denise Maes says that Hispanics are in the same boat, estimated to have been arrested at 1.5 times more than whites.

The war on drugs if it has been successful in any measure it is this: It has placed in our criminal justice system a disproportionate number of Latinos and African Americans.

Opponents say there are other ways to deal with discrimination besides throwing out the whole law. Ken Buck is worried most about what will happen to kids if marijuana becomes more available. O

What’s gonna happen in our schools particularly, is 8:15 we’re gonna see increased dropout rates, we’re gonna see decreased test scores as a result of more kids smoking marijuana.

Amendment 64 would keep the prohibition on driving under the influence of marijuana and on using it in public. Under the amendment, marijuana would be legal only for adults 21 and over.

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