The California Democratic Party threw its weight behind legal marijuana this month.
Without debate, delegates at the party’s annual convention in Los Angeles voted by voice to “support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol,” as the Democratic platform now states.
The vote drew cheers from the hundreds of delegates on the floor of the L.A. Convention Center. It came after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, urged them to send California in the direction of Colorado and Washington, where weed is already legal for adults over 21.
“This is not a debate about stoners,” Newsom said during the three-day convention. “You can be pro-regulation without being an advocate for drug use.”
California has long been in the lead on social issues. The state legalized medical marijuana in 1996, before any other, and it was one of the earlier states to authorize gay marriages, though they were banned again for several years.
But when it comes to recreational weed, California has taken a back seat to Colorado, where the first pot shops opened Jan. 1, and Washington, where they will open this spring.
Several groups launched efforts to legalize all cannabis in the November election, but those campaigns fell apart before they even made it onto the ballot. Now voters must wait until at least 2016 to have their say on legalization.
Support for the idea is strong, with a clear majority backing legal weed in recent polls. Those numbers are only likely to grow between now and 2016.
But not everyone wants to see California reform. Gov. Jerry Brown recently said he opposes legalization because he doesn’t want to see stoners running the world. Brown said voters should take a few years and see what happens in Colorado and Washington before making any decisions.
“How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or nation?” he asked. “I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”
Still, opponents are outnumbered by supporters, and not just tokers and civil libertarians. Organized labor is also backing the idea, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union poised to add thousands of workers to its rolls if legal pot becomes reality. The union already represents about 1,000 workers in MMJ.
James Arby, executive director of the UFCW’s Western State Council, called the party vote a “good first step.” The union wants to see an effort, Arby said, to “create a regulatory framework in which the medical side can be regulated with a path to legalization.”
“This industry is here,” he said. “Legalize it and regulate it.”