California Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, campaigning for a fall ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, said Tuesday he’s becoming increasingly frustrated with fellow politicians for their reluctance to take public stands on the initiative.
Newsom, the measure’s highest-ranking elected supporter, attributed the reticence to a widespread lack of courage and conviction.
“You sit by and you do nothing; you’ve done everything by abdicating any responsibility for the world we live in,” he told a supportive audience at the Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in Oakland. “I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be here on a panel of ex-politicians talking about what I woulda, shoulda done when I was in office.”
Newsom, 48 and a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, said it was in his own lifetime that California had just 20,000 in its prison system. The number ballooned to nearly 175,000 within three decades, he said, evidence that far too many people are being imprisoned for drug crimes.
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“We are not bystanders in the world we are living in. We have agency. This is happening on our watch,” he said, bemoaning the “abject failure (of) our war on drugs.” “It’s a war on the poor and it’s a war on folks of color, and it’s got to end. And the only way you end it is by going to the most destructive and the most ineffective component of that war, and that is the war on cannabis.”
Newsom revealed that his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, with whom he has four children, is “scared as hell” about the message that legalizing pot sends to their kids. He said he has reminded her that the measure would restrict sales to those 21 and older, and that he believes teen use will actually decrease.
More than 3,000 people, many of them with a stake in the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry, were expected to attend the expo this week. Newsom’s address to several hundred attendees came as the campaign looks to unify support from natural allies to withstand the opposition. A spokesman for opponents declined to comment.
Few of the state’s elected officials have taken public positions on recreational pot, let alone waded into debate over the latest measure. Recently, Sen. Barbara Boxer, who leaves office in January, said she is leaning toward joining Newsom in getting behind the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot. Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein have generally come out against legitimizing marijuana.
The lack of avowed support from other politicians and recent internal polling data have convinced Newsom that passage will not be easy, noting that California trails the rest of the nation in support of legalization. He used the setting to make a rare plea for contributions and volunteer assistance, suggesting billionaire venture capitalist Sean Parker is not prepared to devote limitless resources.
“Sean’s got a lot of money, no doubt about that,” Newsom said. “But he’s got a budget, too, and he’s not going to fund the whole thing. ... We need your help.”
Meantime, deep-pocketed opponents of marijuana loom, including wealthy GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
“There’s a prospect of an organized effort to defeat this,” Newsom said. “And if it is defeated it will set back this movement in California for years and years. And I would argue set back the movement for regulating ... marijuana ... across this country for year and years.
“Do not take California’s initiative for granted.”