We're pleased to announce that Steve Hawkins has been named the new executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Steve brings three decades of experience fighting for criminal justice reform, having previously served in leadership roles at the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, and the Coalition for Public Safety.
The entire MPP staff is thrilled to welcome Steve to our organization.
Steve began his career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He later served as executive vice president of the NAACP, spearheading its efforts to end the police practice of “stop and frisk” in New York City and successfully encouraging the NAACP board of directors to adopt a policy in support of marijuana decriminalization. Steve also previously served as executive director of Amnesty International USA, as a program executive for the Atlantic Philanthropies, and as a senior program manager at the JEHT Foundation. You can read a more detailed biography here.
The marijuana reform movement has made incredible gains in the past several years but there’s still a great deal of work ahead. With Steve leading our experienced and talented team of reformers, and with your support, MPP will continue to enact medical marijuana and marijuana legalization laws that serve the interests of the American people.
On Tuesday, Regulate Rhode Island and allies made a strong case to the House Judiciary Committee to vote on H 5555, the legislation to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. Click below to watch testimony from:
- Rep. Scott Slater, primary sponsor of H 5555
- Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence branch and co-chair of Regulate Rhode Island
- Dr. David Nathan, founder and board president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation
- Rev. Jamie Washam, pastor of First Baptist Church of America
- Matthew Schweich, director of state campaigns for Marijuana Policy Project
- Jared Moffat, director of Regulate Rhode Island
If you are a Rhode Island resident, please call your representative in the General Assembly, and tell them to ask House leadership to allow a vote on legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana this year.
The Speaker of the House, Nick Mattiello, has the ultimate say on whether the bill will move forward in the House this year. He needs to hear from his members in the House that this is a priority for them.
A measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California appears headed for the Nov. 8 ballot.
A coalition that includes former Facebook President Sean Parker on Tuesday said it has collected 600,000 signatures, more than enough to qualify the initiative. …
The coalition, which includes some law enforcement and civil rights leaders, needed to collect 365,880 signatures of registered voters to qualify the initiative, which would also place a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug.
This November, California voters will finally have the opportunity to pass smart marijuana policy that is built on the best practices of other states, includes the strictest child protections in the nation and pays for itself while raising billions for the state
The California State Conference of the NAACP formally endorsed the initiative to end marijuana prohibition in California known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). It is part of a growing coalition in support of the proposal, which would regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol in the state if approved by voters this November.
Alice Huffman, longtime president of the California NAACP, provided the following statement in a press release:
“Creating a legal, responsible and regulated framework for marijuana is a predominant civil rights issue and it’s long overdue. The current system is counterproductive, financially wasteful and racially biased, and the people of California have repeatedly called for it to be fixed. This measure will ensure that California is not unjustly criminalizing responsible adults while also ensuring that our children are protected while the State receives hundreds of millions of new dollars for vital government and community-based programs.”
MPP announced its backing of the AUMA late last year, and it has established a committee to support the campaign.
Portland, Maine may become the first city to defy both state and national marijuana laws. Following a vote by City Council on Monday, July 15, voters residing within city limits will have the opportunity to decide whether to remove all penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
Portland’s City Council voted 5-1 to send the citizen-initiated marijuana legalization ordinance to voters on a November ballot, rather than immediately adopting it. The ordinance received twice as many signatures as was required.
About a dozen speakers delivered presentations during the hearing and a pre-hearing press conference, including Portland City Councilor Dave Marshall, the Marijuana Policy Project’s Maine political director David Boyer, Maine NAACP Executive Committee member Regina Phillips, and Bob Talbot of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
Phillips highlighted the racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. She cited recent FBI statistics showing that blacks in Maine are more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite similar use rates. “It has begun to feel like locking up young black men has become a national pastime,” she said.
Boyer and City Councilor Marshall emphasized the ineffectiveness of prohibition, the extreme financial costs of enforcement, and the fact that marijuana is objectively safer than alcohol.
“No one’s ever died from a lethal amount of pot,” Marshall told council members at the pre-hearing press conference. “Factually, [marijuana] is safer than alcohol. It doesn’t make logical sense for it to be illegal.”
Currently, Maine is one of 18 states to permit medical marijuana. Recent efforts to legalize marijuana statewide have been accelerating: LD 1229, a bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, was only narrowly defeated in the Maine legislature.
The NAACP of Pennsylvania endorsed a bill to regulate and tax marijuana last week.
Sen. Daylin Leach (D) introduced SB 528, or the Regulate Marijuana Act, in early April. The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow up to 12 plants. The bill includes safeguards to protect against driving under the influence and requires that the state develop a regulatory framework for overseeing marijuana sales. If enacted, Pennsylvania would become the third state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
“The war on drugs is a catastrophic failure, particularly for people of color,” said David Scott, a spokesman for the NAACP and a former deputy chief of police. “In Pennsylvania, blacks are 5.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites – even though they use drugs at the same rate.
This support comes in light of a shattering ACLU report, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” which found that there is significant, nationwide racial bias in marijuana arrests.
Sen. Leach has welcomed the group’s support.
A new study released today shows conclusively that in California’s largest cities African-Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at much higher rates that whites. In the 25 cities profiled, African-Americans were arrested at four to 12 times the rate of whites, despite much higher use rates among whites.
This horrifying disparity is one reason Proposition 19 has earned the support of civil rights groups, including the California NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens of California. These numbers make it clear that removing penalties for marijuana possession would eliminate a tool that has been used to institute a system of pervasive racism in the Golden State. Given that even a single possession charge can result in severe economic and social consequences, the fact that arrests are focused so disproportionately on minority communities is an overwhelming argument for reform on November 2nd.
Some folks disagree, namely the majority of California’s law enforcement community. Several law enforcement groups have given large sums of money to the campaign against Proposition 19, the most recent being the California Police Chiefs Association, who donated $20,000 to No on Prop. 19.
Throughout the public debates on this issue, law enforcement groups (other than those backing Prop 19) have said that reformers need to prove why marijuana should not be illegal. It seems much more reasonable to expect the burden of proof to be on the other side, especially when marijuana prohibition results in such obvious racial persecution. Yet law enforcement does not rise to this challenge, probably because there is no justification for such practices in a civilized society.
Could it be that some California cops actually like targeting minorities?
If Proposition 19 passes, they will lose their easiest way to do so.
Interestingly, the largest law enforcement group supporting Proposition 19 is…
On the same day that the California NAACP endorsed that state’s ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition (now officially named Proposition 19), our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance released a new study that shines a light on the systemic racial bias behind marijuana arrests taking place all across California.
Among the report’s findings:
- “In every one of the 25 largest counties in California, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites, typically at double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites,” even though “U.S. government studies consistently find that young blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.”
- “In Los Angeles County, with nearly ten million residents and over a quarter of California’s population, blacks are arrested at over triple the rate of whites. Blacks are less than 10 percent of L.A. County’s population, but they are 30 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession.”
- “Police in other California counties, even those with relatively few blacks or relatively low rates of marijuana arrests, still arrest blacks at much higher rates than whites. African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at nearly three times the rate of whites in Solano County, and at three to four times the rate of whites in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco counties.”
The report, written by Prof. Harry Levine of Queens College, finds this overwhelming racial bias to be a “system-wide phenomenon” and not just the result of a handful of racist cops. That’s because most narcotics officers are assigned to patrol so-called “high-crime” neighborhoods that are disproportionately low-income and minority. In those neighborhoods—as in nearly all neighborhoods—the most likely, or easiest arrest an officer can make is for marijuana possession. If we want to end this racial bias, we need to end the laws that allow it to occur. Come November, California voters will have an opportunity to do just that.
In another example of marijuana policy reform’s growing approval by the mainstream political establishment, this week two major state-level political organizations gave their backing to local initiatives to end marijuana prohibition.
Citing inherent racism in the government’s war on marijuana, the California state chapter of the NAACP announced its support for the Tax Cannabis initiative, which will appear on the California ballot this November.
Meanwhile, the Washington state Democratic Party voted by an overwhelming 314-185 margin to endorse a proposed legalization initiative by Sensible Washington, which has not yet qualified for the ballot.
As more and more influential political forces oppose the doomed philosophy of prohibition and embrace the sensible path of reform, the potential for major electoral victories in 2010 and 2012 seems more promising than ever before.