ACLU endorses marijuana legalization in Colorado

Attorney Brian Vicente (center) addresses reporters in Denver's Civic Center Park today, as petition organizer Emmett Reistroffer, left, and executive director Mason Tvert, right, look on. (Kersgaard)

The ACLU of Colorado Thursday announced it has endorsed the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol.

“In Colorado we believe our laws should be practical and they should be fair. Yet we are wasting scarce public resources in our criminal justice system by having police, prosecutors and the courts treat marijuana users like violent criminals. It is unconscionable for our state to spend tax dollars to arrest, prosecute and crowd the courts, and jail people for possession of a small amount of marijuana, especially when those being arrested and jailed are disproportionately people of color,” said the ACLU in a statement on its web site.

The war on drugs has failed. Prohibition is not a sensible way to deal with marijuana. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will move us toward a more rational approach to drug laws,” the statement continued.

Rosemary Harris Lytle, communications director at the ACLU of Colorado, said legalizing small amounts of marijuana for adults is a civil rights issue. “Current drug laws contribute to the mass incarceration of people of color, especially young people of color.”

She said that drug use is roughly equal among ethnic groups in the U.S., but that a disproportionate number of those incarcerated for possession of small amounts of drugs are people of color.

Moreover, she said the effort to legalize small amounts of marijuana is in keeping with the ACLU’s mission of promoting and defending individual rights and freedom.

“We believe that prosecuting people for low-level possession of marijuana is a waste of the taxpayers’ resources,” Harris Lytle said.

Mason Tvert, director of SAFER, which is promoting the legalization effort, said “This is a great endorsement. The ACLU is one of the largest organizations in the state and their support lends a lot of credibility to our efforts and helps us make the point that marijuana prohibition is a huge waste of resources. It sends the message to other groups that this is a mainstream issue.”

In its statement, the ACLU said:

• Colorado authorities made 17,000 arrests for drug offenses last year.

• One in five people in Colorado’s prisons are serving time for a drug offense.

See the ACLU statement here.

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