Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is no fan of marijuana. "I don't like it -- I don't like the smell, I don't want to see it around," The former San Francisco mayor said on a visit to our weed-scented city.
This may come as a surprise, considering Newsom is the highest-ranking elected official in the state to squarely, solidly and "unequivocally" support full legalization of the loathed plant, a stance he's been up-front about for the past year.
It seems he hates the drug war even more. And he's not alone. New polling sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed 2-to-1 support in the state for freeing the weed. With that surge of public support, Newsom, the ACLU, and a panel of experts will spend the next two years studying just how marijuana legalization can happen in California -- just in time for the 2016 ballot.
Polling of late has been strongly in favor of marijuana legalization -- something both Californians at large and Newsom himself rejected in 2010, when the state had the chance to be the first in the country to legalize marijuana. Since Prop. 19 went down 53 percent "no" to 47 percent "yes," Washington and Colorado have legalized cannabis with no immediate falling of the sky -- and likely voters are taking note.
About 65 percent of likely California voters said they'd vote "yes" on legalizing cannabis, according to a new poll commissioned by the ACLU and conducted by Tulchin Research. That is, as long as marijuana was strictly regulated by the state, illegal for people under 18, and any legalization included penalties for marijuana DUI.
"It's far past time for Californians to take a look at smarter approaches to marijuana," Newsom said in a statement released before today's appearance -- which is to say it's far past time for the state to get with it and end the drug war. That leads to questions as to why 2010 wasn't the right time for Newsom or the state, but no time for that now.
Newsom is now in charge of heading up a panel of experts -- including the Santa Clara County sheriff, a pediatrician from Stanford University and veterans of cannabis reform from Colorado and Washington -- that will in about two years' time deliver policy papers and "best practices" on how to implement legalization in California.
That would be just in time for a 2016 ballot initiative -- both to qualify it with the Secretary of State and to start going around collecting the millions of dollars that will be needed to run a successful campaign.
Legalizing marijuana that year is something Newsom -- who is up for re-election next year -- fully supports, political fallout be damned.
"I don't care," he said, adding that he's "sick of politics and politicians." And he drew a parallel to 2004, when folks said he'd destroy his career on gay marriage -- calling medical marijuana the equivalent of "civil unions" to legal weed's marriage equality.
In the meantime, however, there's plenty of work to do on medical marijuana in the state. Despite repeated statements that the state's medical industry needs reform, lawmakers in Sacramento have proven unable or unwilling to get it done.
"They keep trying, they keep trying -- it's not easy," Newsom said. "There's some counties who think this is immoral and outrageous, other counties that support it -- it's difficult."