Newsom Group Calls for Public Legalization Discussion

A group led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling for a public disussion to prepare the ground for an expected 2016 ballot measure that would legalize cannabis.

The group is called the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy. The group’s website,, says it’s “a joint venture and collaboration between the Office of Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.”

After a year of studying the challenges around legalization, the commission announced its goals Thursday. Among them:

  • Protecting the health and well-being of children and adolescents.
  • Preserving the public safety of Californians on the road and in their communities.
  • Creating a fair, enforceable set of taxes and regulations that enhances California’s economic and physical health.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

“We’ve said all along, we have to be accountable and responsible for making sure that we address the intended and unintended consequences of any effort to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults,” Newsom said in an interview. “It’s not good enough to put something on the ballot and begin after the fact to ask those questions. We need to have some answers in mind before we present it to voters.”

The effort appears aimed at assuaging concerns that have arisen since the state legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and the rocky rollout in a handful of states that have legalized recreational marijuana more recently.

Newsom chairs the group that authored the report, a collection of medical, law-enforcement and civil-rights experts brought together by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in 2013 to study the potential effects of legalization.

The 18-page report concentrates on three areas of further study: children, public safety and taxation/regulation. The panel plans to hold forums to solicit public comment in Los Angeles in April, San Francisco in May and Fresno in June, before announcing a set of policy recommendations by August.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

… the commission isn’t shying away from some of the thornier questions surrounding legalization: What to do with people who remain incarcerated on marijuana-related charges? If voters legalize pot, should their criminal records be cleaned? Should convicted felons be allowed to work at marijuana-related businesses?

The report acknowledged the racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests, noting that “surveys consistently show people of color and whites consume marijuana equally, yet arrest rates and conviction rates have historically been much higher for people of color, particularly for African-Americans, with serious negative effects on their communities.”

The report states that any new law should be able to ferret out people who are driving under the influence of marijuana. The challenge is that detecting stoned drivers is not as clear-cut as nabbing drunk ones.

It also wrestles with how steeply to tax legal cannabis. Taxing it too high might force people to buy it on the street, where it would be untaxed and likely cheaper. And will a tax apply to medical marijuana — which has been legal in California since voters approved its use in 1996?

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