Proposition 19, the California initiative that would legalize marijuana, got a boost Thursday from several Hollywood celebrities who announced they were throwing their support behind the measure.
Rock singer Melissa Etheridge joined actors Danny Glover and Hal Sparks, former LAPD Deputy Chief Steve Downing, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and activist Sarah Lovering at a news conference at Cafe Was in Hollywood to announce their support for Proposition 19.
The ballot measure would allow adults 21 and older to grow and possess marijuana and would authorize cities and counties to approve the cultivation, sale and taxation of pot.
Etheridge said she was not a regular user of cannabis until she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. She said she had the choice of using 10 drugs with various side effects or opt for a "natural solution."
Although she has a medicinal license to use marijuana, the singer said she would like to see pot become legal because "I don't want to look like a criminal to my children anymore. I want them to know this is a choice that you make as a responsible adult."
Glover called the law criminalizing marijuana "draconian" and said that Latinos and African Americans are the most affected by it because these minorities typically end up in jail when caught with even the smallest amount of the drug.
Downing and Johnson also described the existing pot law as discriminatory. Although research shows the majority of people who use marijuana are white, the largest number arrested in connection with the drug are "black and brown," Downing said.
He said lifting the prohibition on pot would help quash the black market for cannabis and impede the enrichment of drug cartels.
Opponents of Proposition 19 said they were unfazed by the stars' support for the ballot measure.
"I don't think it's a surprise that Hollywood celebrities are pro-Prop.19 legislation," said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Public Safety First, the main opposition campaign, backed by state law enforcement groups and the California Chamber of Commerce. "But that's not what it's about. It's about the specifics and the initiatives."
One of those specifics, Salazar said, is that "if you legalize a product and make it available, logically you're going to have an increase in usage."
Alexandra Datig, an acknowledged former addict of marijuana and other drugs, now runs the anti-Proposition 19 group Nip It In The Bud 2010. She stood outside Cafe Was, handing out an open letter to the entertainment community.
"I ask you to reconsider," the letter reads in part. "Many of you are role models to our youth, many of our nation's young talents look up to you, try to emulate you and listen to the advice you give.... Few things can damage a youthful and hopeful career, such as drug use, often starting with marijuana."
The news conference was organized to promote the initiative and draw attention to BuddhaFest, which aims to raise awareness about marijuana. The festival, with entertainment on 10 stages, will start at noon Saturday continue until 2 a.m. Sunday at the Los Angeles Center Studios in downtown L.A.