This post has been updated.

Last night, Dr. Benjamin Danielson, a practicing pediatrician and clinical professor at the University of Washington, became the latest in a long list of people who have endorsed initiative 502, the state's opportunity to finally legalize marijuana. The educational, community, and social-services center El Centro de la Raza also endorsed the initiative yesterday.

The New Approach Washington campaign has worked hard to engage communities of color on this issue (see this article from December) and it's succeeding. Recent endorsers include: Reverends Leslie Braxton, Steve E. Baber, and Carl Livingston; King County Councilman Larry Gossett; former Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (and former King County Executive) Ron Sims; and many others including Mayor McGinn, city and state legislators, former judges, former FBI agents and police chiefs, and Seattle's city attorney.

"I'm looking at it as a social justice issue, through the lens of disproportionality—racism—in the criminal-justice system," Dr. Danielson said this morning.

"It's a symptom of a really broken system... Is this just about legalizing marijuana? That's not really my goal or feeling. I'm not a pro-marijuana person per se," he said. "If someone on the street came up to me and said 'do you support legalizing marijuana?' I'd off the bat say 'no.' But I do feel like there's this overarching issue in our criminal-justice system of targeting people of color: the expense, the lost lives, the disruption of families, the broken-up dreams. Maybe that sounds a little corny."

"But it's true," I said. (Plus there's the half-billion dollars of tax revenue that legalization would generate in the first year alone.)

Dr. Danielson also said he thought it was "wise" of the I-502 to strongly engage communities of color and point people towards the criminal-justice issues and not just whether people should be allowed to smoke pot. "So," he said, "I appreciate that."

Apparently, El Centro de la Raza appreciates it too. Yesterday, El Centro also announced its support for I-502 on the same grounds. From the press release:

In Washington, a black adult is roughly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white adult despite the fact that white Washingtonians use marijuana at a slightly higher rate. Marijuana arrests now make up over half of all drug arrests in Washington, and ninety percent of them are for simple possession.

The truth is that people with brown or black skin have been and are more likely to end up with a marijuana conviction. These marijuana criminal convictions limit our children’s educational and employment opportunities. Communities of color must recognize the institutionalized bias and come together for social justice to change the system.

The full release is below the jump.

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El Centro de la Raza Endorses I-502

To Legalize, Tax, and Regulate Marijuana for Adults

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 2, 2012

El Centro de la Raza announces its support for I-502, which would tax and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over, dedicating revenues to healthcare, research and education, and substance abuse prevention. The initiative will be voted on by the public on November 6th 2012.

“It is necessary to pledge our support towards the decriminalization of marijuana in Washington State as this is an issue that affects communities of color disproportionately,” states Estela Ortega, Executive Director of El Centro de la Raza.

In Washington, a black adult is roughly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white adult despite the fact that white Washingtonians use marijuana at a slightly higher rate. Marijuana arrests now make up over half of all drug arrests in Washington, and ninety percent of them are for simple possession.

The truth is that people with brown or black skin have been and are more likely to end up with a marijuana conviction. These marijuana criminal convictions limit our children’s educational and employment opportunities. Communities of color must recognize the institutionalized bias and come together for social justice to change the system.

The regulation of marijuana needs to be a concern of public health, like that of alcohol. The fines and penalties associated with marijuana usage will address the systemic concerns of the public’s health, rather than feeding our correctional facilities and clogging our courthouses. There are years of research and data that show the War on Drugs is not working, it’s time for a new approach. We believe the next step in a new approach is to approve I-502.