On June 5, California voters went to the polls to vote on the primaries. No fewer than twenty-seven candidates appeared on the primary ballot, but the front-runner is Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. California has a jungle primary system in which the top two vote-getters go to the general election regardless of party affiliation. John Cox, a Republican, came in second, and he will face Newsom in November. What are their positions on marijuana?

Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom, the former the mayor of San Francisco, garnered national headlines in 2004 when he directed the city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. He also is prochoice and favors green energy. Personally, he does not like marijuana, saying he “hates the stuff.” However, he supported California’s Proposition 64, which legalized adult-use sales in the state. He has summarized his position as not pro-pot but anti-prohibition.

John Cox

John Cox, a conservative businessman from San Diego. He has been endorsed by Donald Trump. Cox has said that the United States should follow Portugal’s model of drug decriminalization, in which addicts are sent not to jails but to doctors for help to quit. He said at a candidate forum: “I’d like to go to the Portugal system where they actually put people who use marijuana in hospitals and cure them of their substance abuse.” He sees this as necessary to keep marijuana users from moving on to harder drugs. Later, however, he said, “I clearly did not say that recreational pot users should go to hospitals, I talked about heroin.”

Thus in the November election, Californians will choose between an “anti-prohibition” candidate who supported legalization and a candidate who supports decriminalization, which is a step behind the existing law.

Other Candidates

Antonio Villaraigosa

Three other Democrats were leading challengers against Newson. Antonio Villaraigosa had substantial financial backing and, as the former mayor of Los Angeles, his name has recognition in California. He also backed Proposition 64, and, as mayor, allowed medical marijuana vendors to set up shop in Los Angeles. In a debate early in 2018, he won the audience over with his candor when the moderator asked the candidates to raise their hands if they had “ever used pot.” Villaraigosa unhesitatingly raised his hand and said, “And different from some, I actually inhaled.” (Some of the other candidates raised their hands sheepishly.) He has said that the war on drugs “didn’t work,” and his discussions of marijuana tend toward issues such as criminal justice, taxation, zoning, and other practical matters.

Watch the amusing moment from the debate below.

John Chiang

John Chiang, California’s treasurer, also supports legal marijuana, and as treasurer, he focused on creating a bank in California that, unlike federally insured and regulated banks, can do business with marijuana businesses. “California and other states will need to lead when it comes to bringing the cannabis industry out of the shadows so that it can be properly regulated to prevent sales to minors, to protect the public’s health and safety, and ensure cannabis businesses behave as legitimate, tax-paying members of our economy,” he said in an interview. A marijuana bank would allow businesses to handle such matters as rent, tax, payroll, and vendor payment without the risk and logistical problems of cash.

Delaine Eastin

Delaine Eastin was another Democratic candidate. She is the former California superintendent of public instruction. She has stated that the federal government should keep its “mitts off” California’s legal marijuana program. She has also said: “To be honest…we tried making marijuana illegal, and that hasn’t worked so well. I just don’t think it makes sense for us to be thuggish about something that is not intrinsically evil.” She wishes that the tax rate established by Proposition 64 could have been higher, and that “it wasn’t a particularly well-written initiative, but the general idea of it, to not make it such a criminal offense, I think is commonsensical.”

Now that the primaries are over and Newsom has received more votes than his opponents, it is likely that he will be the next governor of California.

What do you think? Will Newsom sign laws expanding marijuana’s legality in California? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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