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After Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo in January—which provided some protections for states that have legalized against federal interference—Newsom said in a press release that the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.