The following comes from a May 8 San Francisco Chronicle article by Joe Garofoli:

The reason marijuana might actually be legalized for adult recreational use in California this November is because professionals — not stoners — are running the campaign this time.

However, supporters of legalization need to scale the wall surrounding churches in many African American and Latino communities. Getting over that wall will be one of the keys to winning the legalization campaign being steered by a combination of political pros and longtime advocates.

Six years ago, when California NAACP Chairwoman Alice Huffman was one of the few black leaders to support the failed Proposition 19 legalization measure, she couldn’t even get inside African American churches to talk about the issue.

Church leaders told her marijuana was a gateway to harder drugs (not true) and blamed much of the violence in their communities on weed.

“I understand that they’re fearful. They see people die. They see people incarcerated,” Huffman said. “But what they were doing was miseducating a lot of people about cannabis.”

She and others have spent the past few years explaining how African Americans are nearly four times as likely (and Latinos 2.5 times) to to be arrested for drug use and possession.

Slowly, over the past few years, Huffman and others say there has been what they call “a softening” on legalization. With everyone from Black Lives Matter supporters to presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders now talking about mass incarceration and the federal government’s failed war on drugs, more people are willing to at least listen to arguments in favor of legalizing weed.

Now, roughly a dozen pastors statewide are actually supporting the legalization campaign.

Huffman said church leaders still “might not come right and say, ‘Oh, we’re with you, we love you, we’re on board.’ But that’s not what I want. What I want is for them not to miseducate their members, so that they can make their own choice. I just want them to say, ‘We’ll pass this on to our members.’ And that’s been real progress.”

The challenge is harder in Latino religious communities. The Catholic Church, influential in the Latino community, opposed Prop. 19. Some legalization advocates remember seeing priests in East Los Angeles handing out anti-Prop. 19 leaflets six years ago. And it’s more difficult for advocates to tap into their Pentecostal and evangelical churches, which aren’t networked to the degree African American churches are.

Now, there’s hope that the Catholic Church will remain neutral on this year’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act, said Armando Gudino, who organizes in the Latino community for the Drug Policy Alliance. He hears from parents who are comforted seeing that teen marijuana use remained flat in Colorado after that state legalized weed.

“People in the Latino community are realizing that the war on drugs is creating more harm in their community than legalization would,” Gudino said. “You can be caught with a joint — and living here with a green card for 30 years — and be deported.”