Stoned drivers, pesticides in crops, the black market and the political risk of California’s presumptive next governor are just some of the challenges cannabis legalization sponsors face in getting on next year’s ballot, according to those who addressed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy at UCLA today.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“There are a lot of questions that do need to be asked,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the first public airing of the issues by a marijuana policy commission that he formed with the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
It’s not yet clear, Newsom said, whether competing groups of marijuana advocates can unite behind one November 2016 ballot measure that would address public safety concerns adequately enough to survive campaign attacks.
At UCLA, one of the main concerns raised by law enforcement authorities was the lack of adequate technology to test drivers for marijuana impairment. With alcohol, they said, a precise gauge of blood-alcohol level corresponds directly to the risk of causing a traffic accident.
But there is no accepted standard for measuring how much marijuana impairs driving skills.
“The science is not there yet with marijuana,” said Ventura police Chief Ken Corney, first vice president of the California Police Chiefs Assn., which has opposed pot legalization.
Paul Gallegos, a former Humboldt County district attorney, raised concerns about environmental damage caused by marijuana growers diverting water from streams, as well as their unregulated use of pesticides and fertilizers that poison wildlife.
Newsom himself raised concerns about setting marijuana taxes so high that they perpetuate an unregulated black market.
So far, three groups have submitted proposed marijuana ballot measures to state election authorities. As the Times notes, it will take months to sort out whether any of them – or others not yet proposed – gain final approval for next year’s ballot.
Newsom, who hosted the meeting on UCLA’s campus, said he is not an ideologue when it comes to legalizing pot. But at the same time, he doesn’t want to see what happened with big tobacco, happening with marijuana.
“I support the taxation legalization of recreational use for adults, but with caveats,” Newsom said.
“California is not Colorado, Washington, Oregon, or Alaska. It’s all those state’s combined plus all kinds of unique attributes,” he said.
Professor of political science at Sonoma State University, David McCuan, said supporting the legalization of recreational marijuana comes with political risk, but also offers the opportunity to establish trust.
“This issue for example talks about water and the environment. It hits issues around criminal justice. There are a number of different things in which marijuana legalization opens up the doors or avenues to other things that are of interest to Gavin Newsom,” McCuan said.
He added that critics may say Newsom is pushing too far too fast on the marijuana issue— a criticism he also faced when he supported gay marriage as mayor of San Francisco.
The Associated Press reports:
Even Newsom, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 who supports legalization, acknowledged he has concerns. The former San Francisco mayor is aligning himself with an issue that polls show has gained growing acceptance in the state, but promoting the loosening of marijuana laws also comes with inevitable political risks for a future campaign.
Newsom told the group it was time for the state to move in a new direction, lamenting a drug war that had fallen short of its goals. At other points, he worried about a black market that could bloom if taxes drive buyers underground and the safety of children, including his own. He worried about advertising and its effect of youngsters, and the spread of availability.
For candidate Newsom, “he has to be aware of the inevitable downside of legalization,” said Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney, alluding to the potential for higher crime, car accidents or health issues that could come with broader use.
“Even though polls show there is increasing support for legalization, there is still a lot of resistance, particularly among older voters. And older voters make up a disproportionate share of the electorate,” Pitney added.