California already has some of the least restrictive marijuana laws in the country, and they’re likely to become more so in the near future. But don’t expect the state’s famously liberal governor to help fight for legal weed.
In an interview with The Washington Post in January, Gov. Jerry Brown said he wouldn’t push for legalization, even as marijuana advocates seek to put the issue on the ballot this year.
“I’m not leading any charge for further chemical interactions,” Brown said. “We’ve got an awful lot of that going on right now, starting with Ritalin with little kids.”
Brown acknowledged legalization is likely to come before voters soon. Activists are currently circulating petitions to put the question on the 2014 ballot and, if that fails, plans are in the works for a second try in 2016.
California has a long tradition of government by referendum. Its medical marijuana system, the first in the country, was approved by voters in 1996. The state is widely considered one of the most likely to legalize pot in the next three years.
But Brown said he wants to wait and watch developments in Washington State and Colorado before taking a stance one way or another. Voters in both those states chose to make weed legal in the 2012 election, and the first retail marijuana stores opened in Colorado Jan. 1.
“I do think America’s under a certain amount of competitive pressure,” he said. “We like to think of ourselves as the leading power, and we’re an aging 4 percent of the world’s 7.2 billion people. So I think we have to stay alert and heads up. I don’t know if everybody’s going to pot that that’s going to be a positive path forward.”
Brown added: “But I mean, I’m a tolerant fellow, and let’s see how — maybe the Rocky Mountain high will provide some kind of inspiration. But I’d rather let them test it first, in the laboratories of democracy called the states. But this is a pretty liberal state, and I’m sure there will be people raring to put something on the ballot at some point.”
Most of the big hitters in marijuana advocacy are waiting for 2016 instead, when a presidential election should turn out more of the voters who support legalization.There are four groups seeking to put legalization before voters in November. Two are currently gathering signatures. Voter support for the idea is strong, with recent polls showing a clear majority of Californians want to make recreational cannabis legal – enough that it would probably pass. But it’s not clear any of the four petitions will make it onto the ballot this year.
Brown’s position on legal pot may be at odds with his historical image as a progressive governor. He first held the office from 1975 to 1983. But since then, he has become known as much for his political pragmatism and moderation as for his early liberalism.