Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom’s pot legalization panel identifies challenges

mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Eighteen months after its launch, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy released a progress report Thursday analyzing some of the challenges to legalizing pot in California.

The group, funded by the ACLU of Northern California, was formed to provide research ahead of an expected ballot measure proposal to legalize, tax and regulate recreational pot – much like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. A Public Policy Institute of California survey on Wednesday found that 55 percent of likely California voters favor legalizing marijuana, the most support since the question was first posed in May 2010.

“This initiative is likely to be on the ballot next year and it’s likely to win,” Newsom, who favors legalizing pot, said in an interview. “That means we are entrusted, Sacramento is entrusted, for its implementation.”

Newsom acknowledged that taking a high-profile role in the pot legalization push could complicate his aspirations for governor when Jerry Brown steps down in 2018. But he said the bigger downside would be maintaining neutrality on the issue.

“I think the biggest risk is sitting back and trying to defend the world we’re living in as it relates to our ‘War on Drugs,’” he said. “We’re wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and wasting peoples’ lives by incarcerating them ...”

Newsom added: “It’s interesting folks aren’t held accountable to the status quo as much as they are held accountable to change.”

Overarching goals identified by the task force include protecting the well-being of children; preserving public safety on roads and creating an equitable set of taxes and regulations. Among the tougher questions being posed is what amount of taxes would drive out the black market, Newsom said.

“What should the tax be based on? Weight? THC content?” he asked.

Questions also remain about driving under the influence, the possible proliferation of advertising, and edible forms of pot such as candies. There also are concerns about neighborhood zoning, labor and environmental laws and agriculture and the use of natural resources.

Commissioners plan to hold yet-unplanned public forums in Humboldt, in a central part of the state and in Southern California.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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