It’s no secret California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to see his state legalize marijuana in November. He has been arguing for reform for many years, and he has used his office to push the campaign further.
But for the first time, he has offered a detailed, cogent public explanation of why he backs legalization. In an op-ed column published in the Modesto Bee in March, Newsom says reform is a matter of justice.
“Today, we incarcerate too many Americans for non-violent drug crimes, while too few resources are available for effective treatment and prevention,” he wrote. “Since drug dealers don’t card, youth are often more likely to have access to marijuana than they are alcohol or tobacco.”
You don’t have to be pro-marijuana to be anti-prohibition
These are arguments commonly made by cannabis advocates. The U.S. criminal justice system is overburdened with countless thousands of people – primarily young black men – who are locked up for nothing more serious than burning a flower. The cost of that over-incarceration is huge, Newsom notes, and it simply doesn’t do any good.
“Given the high cost and ineffectiveness of the status quo, you don’t have to be ‘pro-marijuana’ to be ‘anti-prohibition,'” he wrote. “Simply put, we need a smarter approach.”
A means to protect children and communities
Legalizing, regulating, and taxing the drug, he says, would protect children, local communities, and the environment. At the same time, it would set boundaries for “responsible adult marijuana use and its impacts.” And that’s not to mention the financial gains.
“We can also raise much-needed revenues to expand drug treatment and prevention programs, and protect our public lands from the environmental and water impacts of illegal marijuana grows,” Newsom wrote.
Legalization is likely to appear on the statewide ballot in November. The leading initiative, headed by former Facebook president Sean Parker, has already raised more than $2 million to fund signature gathering and other steps needed to get the question before voters.
Newsom launched a blue ribbon commission in 2013 to study the best way to legalize. The panel interviewed academics, police groups, public health experts, and local communities across California to ensure children and the public safety would be protected.
Generating money for addiction treatment and education
Newsom stressed any attempt at legalization should put children and their protection first. Almost as important is the health and safety of the general public. Killing the black market is also a critical goal, he says. And it’s imperative that a large percentage of the money generated by pot shops goes toward addiction treatment, drug education, policing, and environmental protections.
Newsom has already offered his support to Parker’s plan, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. That initiative has won a wide array of endorsements, including backing from the California Medical Association, the NAACP, and the California Council of Land Trusts.
“Passing this consensus initiative will put California on a path toward reasonable and responsible legalization of adult use of marijuana, and sets up a regulatory framework that will allow state and local officials to protect public health, public safety and the environment,” Newsom wrote.
Marijuana legalization is a process, he said, and it will continue long after the vote Nov. 8. Interests across the state, from cops and prosecutors to the legal cannabis industry itself, will have to work together for years to come.
“AUMA strikes the right balance, setting in place strong protections for the public while allowing enough flexibility for regulators to tweak the marijuana market to make sure our kids and communities are safe,” Newsom wrote.
What do you think? Is Newsom right about the reasons to legalize? Will his support help the ballot initiative pass?