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by R. Asmerom

When George Soros speaks, people listen. The infamous billionaire who is known as the “The Man Who Broke The Bank of England,” after he made a billion dollars for shorting the British pound in 1992, donated $1 million towards California’s legalization measure and penned an editorial in The Wall Street Journal explaining why he supports the legalization of marijuana. His declaration, a week before the mid-term elections when Californians will vote on the Proposition 19 measure to legalize limited marijuana use and production, has certainly helped to shed even more attention on this controversial matter.

Although many people in California, from hippies to policy makers to capitalists waiting to bank on a legitimate industry, are in support of legalization, the discussion is still a polarizing force across the country. What’s most interesting about Soros’ editorial is that it touches on the racial inequity associated with drug policy. This is nothing new to the victims and the advocates like NAACP California President Alice Huffman who has declared marijuana law reform a civil rights issue.  The current policy disproportionately affects young African-Americans who are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession. At a young age, these juveniles are tagged with criminal records.

Soros proposes that the origin of the drug policy was one based on prejudice to begin with:  “When California and other U.S. states first decided (between 1915 and 1933) to criminalize marijuana, the principal motivations were not grounded in science or public health but rather in prejudice and discrimination against immigrants from Mexico who reputedly smoked the “killer weed.”

Even if California votes yes on Prop. 19, the likelihood that the policy will take effect is low considering that federal drug laws will complicate its enforcement. Regardless, the attention that Huffman and Soros and countless others  have brought to this issue is a critical step in the movement to overhaul a seemingly counterproductive policy on drugs.

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