More than 20 African American religious and community leaders called Wednesday for Alice Huffman to resign as president of the California State Conference of the NAACP after she and her organization endorsed a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in the state.
Bishop Ron Allen and other members of the International Faith-Based Coalition said Proposition 19 on the November ballot would hurt African Americans, and he criticized Huffman's backing of the measure.
"Why would the state NAACP advocate for blacks to stay high?" Allen said at a Capitol news conference. "It's going to cause crime to go up. There will be more drug babies."
Huffman said she would not step down, and she fired back at her critics during a later conference call with reporters that included African American leaders from throughout the nation who support her position.
"Prop. 19 is about eliminating enforcement practices that are targeting and creating a permanent underclass of citizens, of African Americans, caught in a criminal justice system while other people, a more privileged class, go free,'' Huffman said.
She cited a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports legalization of marijuana. African Americans represent less than 7% of the population but 22% of marijuana arrests, according to Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the alliance.
Huffman also read a statement from Julian Bond, former chairman of the national NAACP, in which he congratulated her for her stand on decriminalization.
"It seems to me that you and the California NAACP are as right as you can be," the statement said. "The war on drugs is an absolute failure. It targets black people."
Allen suggested that Huffman's position is influenced by financial considerations — in particular, perhaps, by money the national NAACP receives from billionaire George Soros' Open Society Institute. Soros helped finance the successful campaign to legalize medical use of marijuana in California.
Huffman said her group "has not received a penny" of the more than $700,000 given to the national organization.