"Late to the party" was a term not typically applied to Gavin Newsom during his eight years as San Francisco mayor. This was the man who catapulted himself to national acclaim by jumping the gun on gay marriage, after all. He's the same "idea mayor" who created the carbon fund and snagged a million followers on Twitter, among other snazzy feats.
Gavin's on the ball yet again, he happily told The New York Times this week. In a story that ran Thursday, Newsom announced that he's all for marijuana legalization. "These laws [prohibiting cannabis] just don't make sense anymore," he said. "It's time for politicians to come out of the closet on this."
That's nice to hear. It also rings a bit hollow, and doesn't explain why
Newsom -- in a position to advance marijuana legalization just two
years ago, when he opposed it -- has flip-flopped on the issue.
The year was 2010, and California appeared poised to become the first state in the union to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adults with Proposition 19. Newsom had been a vocal advocate for medical marijuana -- firing off angry letters to the feds, something Mayor Ed Lee years later couldn't be bothered to do when he was needed most -- and it was entirely possible that the young, hip mayor-turned-lieutenant-governor-candidate would support it.
But he did not. As he said at a press event on Valencia Street, he wasn't exactly sure how legalization would be implemented, therefore the laws penalizing people for pot must stand.
"I'm frustrated with myself on this one, to be truthful," he told The San Francisco Appeal. "But I'm just not there yet. I hope to be there someday, though."
No major statewide elected officials endorsed Prop. 19, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned that cities preparing for legalization, like Oakland, could be sued, and the measure was defeated by 6 percentage points. The defeat spooked major bankrollers needed for a ballot initiative away from California and to Colorado and Washington, where politicians backed the initiatives legalizing marijuana -- which one.
And now all of a sudden Newsom says he's on the marijuana bandwagon. That's nice, but it's two years too late -- and a bit transparent.
"It's pretty obvious that Gavin Newsom aspires to higher elected office," said Tom Angell, spokesman for advocacy group Marijuana Majority. "The fact that he's going out of his way to state his support for marijuana legalization right now is a sign of how this issue has so quickly transformed from being seen by many observers as a risky political loser into what is increasingly accepted as a clear political winner. Hopefully the lieutenant governor will put his weight behind future legalization efforts introduced into the state legislature or placed on the ballot."
Newsom could do well to begin by leaning on friends like Sen. Dianne Feinstein to defend the state's medical marijuana providers from the state Justice Department. That is, if he's the least bit serious about this. Then again, Gavin had a hand in outlawing gay marriage before it could be legal again, so maybe this is just part of the script.