Pot Legalization Campaign Woos the Minority Vote

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks as state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu look on.EXPAND
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks as state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu look on.
Dennis Romero

The minority vote can be crucial, especially in California, where largest racial or ethnic group is composed of Latinos.

Today, the campaign behind Proposition 64, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana for those 21-and-older, aimed its message at the Golden State's people of color. A coalition of local and state leaders supporting the measure addressed reporters at LA Plaza De Cultura y Artes in downtown Los Angeles.

At the press conference, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said that minority weed entrepreneurs would see new "economic opportunities" if the initiative passed in November. His comments addressed the growing concern by communities of color about how they could benefit from the potential pot bonanza if the proposition passes.

Some of the revenues generated from a 15 percent tax on marijuana would go to job training, grants and small business loans, he said. "Pots of money" would enrich people of color interested in the legitimate marijuana business, Newsom said.

"The spirit of the initiative," he said, "is to right those wrongs," including pot arrests that disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos.

Newsom was instrumental in shaping the language of Proposition 64 through his Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy. One of the driving forces was to partially end what some described as a War on Drugs that disproportionately affects minorities in California. Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, citing higher drug arrest rates for people of color in the Golden State, called it a "war on Latinos."

"It's more likely for my peers to go to jail than to go to college," she said at the event.

Marijuana arrests and jail time have been key to disproportionate justice, Newsom told reporters. "The war on drugs cannot perpetuate itself without a war on marijuana," he said.

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The coalition shaped a message that Proposition 64 would end unnecessary arrests while creating some prosperity for those who want in on the pot business.

"We are working hard to create good-paying, professional jobs in the marijuana industry," said Michelle Bugarin, a self-described bud-tender who's a member of UFCW Local 770, which supports the initiative.

Ultimately, the voters will decide on Nov. 8.

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