First-Ever Poll of California's Latino Voters Dispels Myth That Majority Supports Hard-Line Drug Policies

July 2, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Citing the first-ever poll to ask California’s Latino voters about their views on drug policy, the American Civil Liberties Union said today that the overwhelming consensus in opposition to incarceration for low-level drug offenses confirms its call to end the failed experiment of mass incarceration as a way of ending drug abuse.

“”This poll confirms what we always knew to be true, that locking up our family and friends is not the best way to protect the Latino community from drugs,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, the first Latino man to head the organization.

“”As this poll clearly shows, our current policy of locking up tens of thousands of Latinos for drug possession goes against the will of the Latino community,”” Romero said. “”We need to invest in treatment and education, not in prisons.””

The poll of 600 Latinos in California who voted in recent elections found that:

  • 85 percent of Latinos oppose jail for marijuana possession;
  • 65 percent of Latinos oppose jailing young first-time marijuana sellers; and
  • 58 percent of Latinos oppose jail for possession of heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

Overwhelming numbers of Latinos polled stated that they supported alternatives to incarceration for drug crimes, including community service, mandatory treatment, or no punishment at all.

Nationally, although rates of drug use between ethnic and racial groups are roughly equal, Latinos – who represent just 12.5 percent of the population — account for almost half of those charged with a federal drug offense, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics. In California prisons, Latino men represent 36.6 percent of drug offenders, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Department of Justice statistics also show that the lifetime probability of being incarcerated in a state or federal prison is four times higher for Latino men than for white men. Black men are six times more likely than white men to be sentenced to state or federal prison. Much of this can be ascribed to the boom in prison building due to the drug war, the ACLU said.

As elected officials increasingly focus on Latinos as an important swing-voter constituency, today’s findings have important political implications, dispelling the myth that Latinos support hard-line drug policies, said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project.

“”This poll should send shock-waves nationwide for politicians who are eager to capture the Latino vote,”” Boyd said. “”Politicians need to realize that if they are serious about addressing the needs of the minority communities that have been ravaged by the so-called war on drugs, they need to sincerely address drug policy reform.””

The ACLU recently released a position paper examining the racial implications of the War on Drugs. It is online at /DrugPolicy/DrugPolicy.cfm?ID=12752&c=82

The poll was commissioned by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that works to broaden the public debate on drug policy and to promote realistic alternatives to the war on drugs based on science, compassion, health and human rights. Researchers from Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin & Associates conducted phone surveys with a random sample of 600 Californians who voted in recent elections, and who identified as either Latino or Hispanic. It is the first-ever statewide poll to focus exclusively on Latino attitudes toward drug policy. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

The entire poll can be viewed online at

Graphs are available at

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