Twenty-seven candidates are competing to become California’s next governor, but only a select few are considered viable based on recent polling. So where do those candidates stand on marijuana policy?
Marijuana Moment examined the cannabis records of each top contender in Tuesday primary. Here’s what we found…
California Democratic gubernatorial candidates
Gavin Newsom, California lieutenant governor
Generally seen as the favorite to come out on top in the primary, Newsom has repeatedly emphasized the importance of cannabis reform on the campaign trail. He endorsed California’s successful 2016 ballot initiative, Proposition 64, to legalize marijuana for adult use and has pledged to defend the state against any attempts by the federal government to interfere in its legal cannabis program.
Before the proposition was even filed, Newsom, in partnership with the ACLU and others, formed a Blue Ribbon Commission that examined and reported on the various elements of cannabis regulation, the results of which were used to craft the legalization measure itself.
He was also one of the first statewide officials in the country to throw his support behind full legalization. In 2012, The New York Times wrote that Newsom “supports its legalization, a notable position for a Democrat widely considered one of the leading contenders to be the next governor.” (Emphasis added).
Legalizing marijuana is about criminal justice reform. It's about putting an end to the failed war on drugs and fixing a broken system that has disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities.
It's time for our leaders in D.C. to step up.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) April 21, 2018
After Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo in January—which provided some protections for states that have legalized against federal interference—Newsom said in a press release that the move “destructively doubled down on the failed, costly and racially discriminatory policy of marijuana criminalization, trampling on the will of California voters and a year-long bipartisan implementation process led by Governor Brown and the California Legislature.” The statement continued:
“This position defies facts and logic, threatens the promise of a safe, stable, and legal regulatory framework being pursued by twenty-nine different states, and continues the Trump Administration’s cynical war on America’s largest state – and its people and progress – through immigration crackdowns, tax increases, climate policy reversals, health care repeals and now marijuana policing. It also flies in the face of the overwhelming public opinion of a vast majority of Americans, who support marijuana legalization.”
Antonio Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles mayor
Though Villaraigoa was initially reluctant to back efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in California, he ultimately endorsed Proposition 64, just days before the election. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, the former mayor said that he took his time “on this measure because I wanted to make sure it included protections for children and public safety.”
Legalizing recreational marijuana & regulating usage will benefit CA’s economy, generating approx. $1 billion annually. Vote #YesOn64
— Antonio Villaraigosa (@antonio4ca) October 31, 2016
Satisfied that the measure did meet these standards, Villaraigoa said he was “convinced there are enough safeguards to make it a workable proposition.”
During a debate in January, Villaraigosa was also the first to raise his hand when asked whether any of the candidates had consumed cannabis, Leafly reported.
— Univision Noticias (@UniNoticias) January 26, 2018
John Chiang, California treasurer
As California’s treasurer, Chiang has made a concerted effort to flag concerns about banking issues in the cannabis industry. He’s previously called for a study to explore the institution of a public, state banking system to accommodate legal marijuana businesses, which face challenges in securing accounts and credit lines as a consequence of federal prohibition. Because marijuana businesses are frequently denied federally backed banking options, they’re often forced to deal in cash transactions, leaving them vulnerable to criminal targeting.
I'm helping lead efforts to create a public cannabis bank in CA so we can move those in the industry out of the shadows & into the light. We must ensure that legal businesses can operate as transparent, regulated, taxpayers—like CA voters intended. https://t.co/XYw3fZHj5X
— John Chiang (@JohnChiangCA) April 19, 2018
THREAD: A public cannabis bank will benefit public safety & support cannabis entrepreneurs, employees, & the general public.https://t.co/SwZkFVtPJq
— John Chiang (@JohnChiangCA) January 30, 2018
“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,” Chiang told The Los Angeles Times in January. “The recent action taken by Atty. Gen. Sessions threatens us with new national divisiveness and casts into turmoil a newly established industry that is creating jobs and tax revenues.”
In 2017, Chiang outlined a series of steps he was proposing to fix the marijuana banking issue. In a press release, he said it’s “unfair and a public safety risk to require a legal industry to haul duffle bags of cash to pay taxes, employees and utility bills,” and that the “reliance on cash paints a target on the back of cannabis operators and makes them and the general public vulnerable to violence and organized crime.”
The state treasurer did not publicly endorse Proposition 64, but later said that he voted for the measure.
“However, it must be properly regulated with the appropriate transparency, including adequate disclosure of THC content and adulteration,” Chiang said during the campaign, according to The Sacramento Bee. “Local governments should be able to place appropriate limits on the location and density of outlets. Furthermore I want to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect minors from access and advertising.”
Delaine Eastin, former California superintendent of public instruction
Eastin said that she respected California voters’ decision to legalize recreational marijuana and sent a message to the federal government to “keep its mitts off” the state’s legal program in a March interview.
Speaking with the Ukiah Daily Journal last year, the former state superintendent of public instruction characterized federal marijuana prohibition as a failure but said that she would have preferred an amended version of Proposition 64 with higher taxes on recreational cannabis. She also suggested that users can become addicted to marijuana. Here’s her full response:
“To be honest with you, 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. I will say that I think the initiative [Proposition 64] could have been written more strongly. I probably would have taxed the product more, I would have put the money into mental health programs and done something that moved the needle on some of the problems that can come out of either alcoholism or drug addiction. And people can become addicted to marijuana — I’m sorry, you can become dysfunctional. So, I thought 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.”
California Republican gubernatorial candidates
John Cox, attorney
The attorney is on the record supporting medical marijuana.
However, Cox made headlines earlier this year after making a controversial proposal to “put people who use marijuana in hospitals and cure them of their substance abuse.” He’s since walked back that statement, telling San Diego NPR affiliate KPBS that his comments were misinterpreted.
“I clearly did not say that recreational pot users should go to hospitals,” he told the station. “I talked about heroin. I talked about abuse of drugs that are addicting like heroin and opioids.”
“We should do what Portugal does—not put those people in jail but put them in the hospitals and get them well. That’s the right solution. Marijuana, no.”
Travis Allen, California assemblyman
Arguably the least progressive viable candidate when it comes to cannabis policy, Allen has been dismissive of California’s recreational marijuana program—and he’s said that other states such as Colorado have seen “disastrous consequence” post-legalization.
According to Leafly, Allen said in a May debate that “[t]he voters of California voted for medical marijuana, and I think a lot of Californians can understand that. It helps you with your nausea from cancer or for your glaucoma. Whatever it happens to be, a lot of voters are okay with that.”
But he went on to say that “legalized recreational marijuana will have disastrous consequences in California, as we have already seen in Colorado.”
The California assemblyman has also consistently voted against marijuana reform bills, including measures to restrict state cooperation with federal marijuana enforcement efforts and establish a statewide regulatory system to oversee California’s medical marijuana program.
A look ahead to November
Under California law the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will face off in November. Depending on the results of Tuesday’s primary, that means there could be no Republican candidate on the gubernatorial general election ballot.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”
Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”
Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.
This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.
Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”
Longtime hemp industry supporter, former U.S. Congressman and current Colorado Governor Jared Polis to present at AHPA Hemp-CBD Supplement Congress — https://t.co/2wPOcvdkHr — #supplement #cbd #hemp #hempindustry @GovofCO pic.twitter.com/tYhqj8HFlx
— AHPA (@AHPAssociation) July 10, 2019
“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.
AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.
But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.
In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.
Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.
Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.
“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”
He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.
“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.
The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.
“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”
BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.
The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.
“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”
“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.